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Aka Family Resettlement Update: The Children Have Started School

By: Mary Friedman

The children have begun school! The home has WiFi and cable t.v. thanks to First Church volunteers. Other volunteers are taking the family grocery shopping and helping them take advantage of donations of fresh produce, to the library, the health clinic, helping with driver's ed. and employment, and planning for English tutoring for the oldest daughter, etc. The Family continues to have needs. If you are interested in donating to help support this family, please click this link for our paypal account and type "Afghan Family Fund" in the notes section.

Mary Friedman attended a meeting of local resettlement agencies and offers this update:

I joined a zoom meeting of the agencies that are working locally and statewide with newcomers to the U.S. It was reported that during this last quarter from 10/1-12/31 3,268 persons were settled in the state. Of these, 292 came to Western Mass. I was interested to learn that CWS (Church World Service) is very active in refugee resettlement. CWS is made up of a large group of Christian churches including the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, Disciples of Christ, the Presbyterian Church, the National Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, etc. In October CWS launched new offices and programs in 10 sites in the U.S. to welcome Afghan evacuees and partner with other groups such as Islamic Relief USA, Lions Club International, and “Samaritan’s Purse” to resettle thousands of Afghans. CWS is working to alleviate the strain on resettlement agencies.

Leaders from the three local resettlement agencies then updated the group on what has happened during the past quarter.

Sara Bedford from Jewish Family Service (JFS) has set the 2022 capacity at 250 persons. Of these they expect to settle 150 Afghans. In 2021 they settled 91 Afghans and are pleased to announce the new office in the Berkshires which has settled 29 people and the office in Framingham has settled 27 people. 35 Afghans have been settled in Springfield (including our family) in addition to people from Syria, Iraq, El Salvador, and Iran. JFS has been swamped with over 300 new volunteer applications which have to be processed. She said they have tripled their staff in the last 3-4 months and are looking forward to the funding from the state which will help to hire more translators. JFS has also just opened a new Welcome Center at the X next to H and R Block which is part of the “New Americans” Program. She announced a new program called the “Match Savings Account Program” This program helps low-income refugees, asylees and evacuees to invest financial savings in long-term goals to buy homes, invest in education, buy a car, or start a small business. This program was started by a new hire who himself is an Afghan refugee. Aziza, another new hire, is working on Afghan women’s health assessment. At first, she will focus on the needs of new mothers and pregnant women refugees but then will be able to address needs of Muslim women in general for socialization.

Kathryn Buckley-Brawner from Catholic Charities said that agency has settled 76 Afghan evacuees during the past quarter (57 adults and 19 children). Their volunteer support system is called “Circles of Care.” They have used Catholic retreat centers and hotels primarily for emergency housing rather than host families. She explained that the military bases currently holding Afghan refugees are planning to end that temporary placement by February 15. She emphasized the major challenges facing the resettlement agencies: finding housing, especially now during a time when rents are increasing; delay in processing social security numbers, etc., finding translators, and concern about Covid risks.

Next Shannon Hansen from Ascentria in West Springfield spoke. She said that by the end of February her agency will have settled approximately 170 Afghan parolees. She echoed what the other agencies described about the challenges. The next quarterly meeting will be April 15.

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