Playing with Arab children on the streets of Morocco more than 30 years ago, the light-skinned, blond-haired Californian with the beaming smile was called Kinza - meaning buried or hidden treasure in Arabic.
The joy of meeting and learning about people of other cultures proved so infectious that she adopted the nickname and transformed her international interests into a career. For the past five years, Kinza Schuyler has worked 80-hour weeks living her job as director and counselor at FIRN, the Foreign-born Information and Referral Network in Columbia.
Now, however, Schuyler, is taking that radiant enthusiasm for helping others to Seattle, where her husband, Philip, is a teacher.
But FIRN, a grass-roots group that sprouted 19 years ago from a Columbia activist's imagination and a "seed" grant from James W. Rouse's Columbia Foundation, is the richer for the experience.
"She has real enthusiasm and passion for the issues," said Patricia Hatch, FIRN's founder.
A reception to say good-bye and thanks was scheduled for today at FIRN's offices in the 5900 block of Harpers Farm Road.
With more people from all over the world coming to Howard County, as immigrants, refugees or visitors, FIRN is growing. About 10 percent of Howard's population is foreign-born, and FIRN serves up to 2,000 people a year, Schuyler said.
Gary Hughes, Schuyler's replacement as executive director, said the annual budget is growing - from about $380,000 this year to perhaps $500,000 next year. During Schuyler's tenure, the staff has grown as well, from four full-time people to 11.
"We're a real grass-roots kind of organization" that helps adults bridge language and legal barriers, get proper identification, solve immigration and medical problems, and assists children with problems in school, Hughes said.
Schuyler, whose two children are grown, allowed a youth of Russian/Yemeni parentage to live in her home on the western edge of Ellicott City for several years until he could finish high school and be reunited with his mother, who had moved to Australia.
The greatest reward, she said, is seeing people get to know each other on a personal level, rather than as abstractions based on nationality or race - notions that sometimes create fear of immigrants as a group.
"If you are my friend, how are you possibly going to be a threat to me?" she asked. "There's a moral imperative to help wherever you can if you have something and are able to share it."
And there's so much here in the United States, to share, she said.
The group's work is frequently done in crisis. "Most of our [clients'] problems are severe because they come to us when they have no place else to go," Schuyler said.
Some problems have become harder to solve because of revisions to U.S. immigration laws in 1996 that Schuyler calls "Draconian" in their effect.
The changes split up families when one member was deported and made immigration particularly difficult for people from Africa.
"Where people had hope, doors were closed," she said.
But the work has rewards. Schuyler said she gets to know people from all over the world, and they get to know her.
The process is made easier by her ability to speak Arabic, French and some Spanish. Being able to converse in someone's native tongue goes a long way toward making the person feel accepted and encouraged to treat you as an equal, Schuyler said.
Spanish-speaking people make up the largest group of immigrants entering the U.S. and often have the greatest problems because some are illiterate in their language, she said. That makes things such as filling out forms, applying for jobs or getting help all the more difficult.
Despite the problems that immigrants face, most have struggled to get to the United States and are willing to work hard, often at menial jobs, to make better lives for themselves and their families. That is why, Schuyler said, it is so hard to understand why some people fear ever-rising tides of immigration.
"These are the very people you want to be Americans. They have such wonderful values, and they're bringing those values with them."