PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MD. (WUSA9) - In an unconventional way, Judy Zaal, has gotten to know Syrian refugees.
Last winter, Zaal replied to a WUSA9 Facebook Live chat seeking questions to immigration. She asked us to help her put a face to the Syrian refugee crisis.
A few months later, no one would have predicted Zaal would become an integral part of a Syrian refugee family.
The Al Bashans have settled in Prince George's County after making the long journey out of war-torn Syria.
The couple has four daughters.
When Zaal makes a visit, the children give warm hugs and greetings: "Habitbi Judy!"
"She's like a sister to me. She's like my blood," said Ahmad Al Bashan, the father, through a translator.
In January 2017, WUSA9 brought Zaal to meet two Syrian refugee families.
She met them through Salwa Dakheel, co-founder of the Foundation to Restore Equality & Education in Syria (FREE-Syria). FREE-Syria offers a program to assist Syrian refugees in our area.
"I feel very emotional because I can't imagine what you've been through," Zaal said. "It's like having the family that I never knew I had, when people maybe have a long lost relative that they meet for the first time."
A devout Christian who describes herself as 'a conservative with an open mind, Zaal had only met Muslims in passing and never anyone from Syria.
Zaal and the Al Bashans didn't share a common language or culture, but they still discovered something profound.
"They're no different from me and you and you. I have children. I want the best for my children and that's what you want," said Zaal in the Al Bashans living room. "I went in anticipating that it was going to be a special night, but I never would have even imagined how life-changing it was."
The very next day, Zaal decided to take a refugee family under her wing: the Al Bashans.
Now, Zaal spends her evenings and weekends picking up toys, clothing and home furnishings for them. WUSA9 met her when she delivered a pair of end tables.
"My car has been full to the brim, front seat, back seat, trunk, you name it."
It takes an hour in traffic to get to them, but Zaal squeezes in at least one visit per week.
Zaal's co-worker, Dawn DiCandilo has also jumped in to help.
"I wanted to be a blessing to somebody else. But I feel like it's come back to me ten-fold," said DiCandilo.
"A lot of people think this is a political issue, right? Refugees coming to America and there's all these sides to it. I just don't look at it that way. I look at it as just a human issue," explained DiCandilo.
Zaal and DiCandilo have helped to make the Al Bashans modest apartment into a home.
Despite the language barrier, the kindness is not lost on the Al Bashans.
"[They] gave us the most beautiful picture of how we could live here in America and be brothers and sisters with the American people," Ahmad said.
© 2017 WUSA-TV