Agent Spotlight: Philip Sturm and his family host an Afghan refugee family who went from being guests to friends and now family for life

This is the first of a series of Agent Spotlight interviews, a chance for us to say thank you to real estate agents who give back to our community and an opportunity to get to know top agents beyond the conference room table. Our first Agent Spotlight interview features Philip Sturm.

Phil Sturm has all the qualities you want in an agent: outgoing, knowledgeable, optimistic and caring.

He loves his family, his hometown of Washington, D.C., and apparently, he loves being a real estate agent. He’s been in the business over 35 years.

“It’s rewarding,” Phil says, “helping people find their dream homes.”

When U.S. troops withdrew completely from Afghanistan in August 2021, Phil and his family watched the humanitarian crisis unfold – thousands of refugees fleeing their homes and the lives they had known in hopes of finding a brighter future.

“I had been reading about Afghanistan, well before even 9/11, and the country has always intrigued me,” Phil said. “I had a high school friend whose father was a diplomat, and they served in Kabul in the ‘70s, and I heard pretty amazing stories about the place and their love of the country. So, I have always had an interest in [Afghanistan].”

Coincidentally, he also possesses a very special set of skills. He wanted to get involved and help, and he’s been able to do exactly that.

With the support of a charitable organization and military personnel, family and neighbors, Phil set off on a journey that would lead to a life-changing experience, first opening his own home to a refugee family and later finding homes for some of their extended family right here in the DC metro area.

As the situation unfolded in Afghanistan, Phil and his wife searched online and learned the biggest need was for temporary shelter in one’s home until various charities in various cities could find permanent housing for resettlement. That’s how Phil’s family first connected with Lutheran Social Services, who is “the largest settler of Afghan refugees in the area,” Phil said.

“They work to get the Afghans out of camps on military bases where they were brought over from Afghanistan,” he said.

After a couple months of following up, asking military friends for guidance and waiting, Phil received the fateful call. He and his wife had been matched with two college-educated brothers, who spoke English very well, and their female teenage cousin.

“They stayed with us, just the three of them for about three weeks.” Phil said. “Then the female cousin’s sister and brother got out of Afghanistan and were sent to a base [200 miles from Washington, D.C.]”

Initially, Phil said that the female cousin’s sister and brother were not going to be reunited with the three relatives, whom Phil had been hosting, and instead would be sent to another location almost 500 miles from Washington, D.C., where they knew nobody. The female cousin’s sister and brother also did not speak English.

“We had to fight to have them sent here,” Phil said.

Ultimately, their efforts proved fruitful, and the family was reunited in D.C.

With the prospect of five refugees sheltering in his home, Phil looked to his community for help, which is when a generous neighbor offered up his house.

“I sold a house to someone in my neighborhood, who left his home for the winter, and he offered his house to the [two college-educated] brothers to stay for two months,” Phil said. “That meant more room for us to have the sister and the brother [of the female cousin] come stay with us.”

With everyone settled, the hunt for a permanent resettlement solution began. The two brothers staying in Phil’s neighbor’s home were the first priority.

“That’s where the real estate part comes in,” Phil said, adding that his network and skillset put him in a unique position to help. “I was able to come in and help them find an apartment.”

Lutheran Social Services will pay the rent until refugees can get on their feet, Phil said, “another way that Lutheran Social Services is amazing.”

It’s been just over two months since Phil and his wife and family first embarked on their journey. Phil said there was some fear at first, but they seem to be finding their stride.

“This experience has put life in perspective for me,” Phil said. “It has been a learning experience for me to not let little things bother me. [Our guests] are comfortable with us, well fed, and now after living through hell, they have the ability to laugh, smile, to joke. And they are happy and that’s all I ever wanted to see.”

Phil and his wife and family are helping their guests get their social security cards and work permits, and he and his wife are going through the steps to get their guests enrolled in school so they can learn English. Eventually their guests will move into their own apartment, Phil said, and continue to assimilate to their new lives in America while trying to reunite with other family members.

But for now, Phil is doing what he can to save “a little piece” of the world. His guests have become friends and now part of Phil’s family for life.

“They are a part of our family now,” Phil said. “They have honored me by giving me the honorific name of ‘Kaka Phil’. It means ‘Uncle Phil’, not just uncle, but honored uncle.”

And while we have chosen to spotlight Phil for our feature, he insists it’s 100-percent a team effort.

“It’s a full-on team, (specific military personnel), Lutheran Social Services, our case worker, just incredible. My wife and I have taken the Afghan family on in a parental way and it’s my three daughters who are just so helpful in the nitty gritty of things, such as getting the Afghan teenagers enrolled in school. It has been a huge team effort.”

If you would like to get involved or donate, visit Lutheran Social Services’s website.

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