Good Neighbors Initiative, Washington Hebrew Congregation & LSS/NCA
So, if you read the "My Story" page of this blog, you'll know that I vowed to volunteer by myself without the company of friends and family. I have been particularly happy about this "rule" because it has allowed me to interact with those I serve and serve with in a way I would otherwise not. But, how can a daughter refuse the opportunity to establish a home for a refugee family with her mom? After all, she turned my childhood houses into wonderful homes. Thanks Mom! This on-going project with Washington Hebrew Congregation called The Good Neighbor Initiative is perfect for this mother/daughter duo ...
Currently, 22.5 million refugees have been forced to flee their homes because of war, persecution, and civil unrest. Over half of them are children. LSS/NCA, Lutheran Social Services National Capital Area is a resettlement agency that supports refugee families transition to their new homeland by mobilizing community partners and offering a comprehensive range of services to newcomers including refugee assistance, employment training and immigration services throughout the National Capital Area. One such community partner is my synagogue, Washington Hebrew Congregation who will soon be matched with a refugee family, likely from Afghanistan. We will help by finding a suitable and economically sustainable apartment, setting it up with furnishings, food, and clothing and helping the family acclimate to their new community. This will be a year-long commitment that will involve many volunteers.
Mom and I will be serving as co-captains for the Housing and Furnishing Team. In this capacity, I will use my Don't Think Twice skills (they are actually being used quite often) to secure the essential items to make this apartment into a welcoming home. We assembled our team today at mom's condo for a kickoff meeting that we named "Jews Meet Afghans" as we served bagels and lox as well as homemade Afghan cookies and mango juice! I am very excited to get work with fellow WHC volunteers, get matched with a family, and set up a lovely home for our new neighbors! If you think you have a special resource or talent to offer us, please let me know! I will be sure to keep you informed about our progress and final outcome as this project continues. Check back to the Follow Me To 50 Page on Facebook from time-to-time!
My Takeaways*: (*Because welcoming refugees is so important to me, this will be a combination of my usual reflection as well as some necessary educational information so that you can be informed and active about this issue.)
(1) You've heard it several times before, but it's worth the reminder: All of our families, if not ourselves, were from somewhere else. Some in fact, were refugees! My great-grandparents fled from pograms in Eastern Europe and came to the U.S. with a range of needs. Some came with their parents with some accumulated wealth or resources while others came alone as teenagers without anything. None spoke English and ALL needed help. A "refugee", by definition, is someone who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. They aren't gratuitously choosing to leave their home, they are forced to! In fact, only 1% of the world's refugees make it to a 3rd country placement such as the U.S. This is further indicative of the struggles refugees arriving here have encountered. If we know to bring cookies to a new neighbor, why don't we know to become involved and welcome these special new neighbors? They too are part of our community! (2) Refugees are not dangerous! They are intensively vetted for security threats before being resettled in the United States by the Department of Homeland Security and State, the FBI, and other national intelligence agencies. Of the 784,000 refugees resettled in the U.S. since September 11th, only 3 have been arrested for planning terrorist activities. Our native neighbors are far more dangerous! (3) Refugees are typically highly educated and do not have a negative impact on our local or national economics. Refugees are more likely to have a high school degree than other immigrants and just as likely as U.S. born residents to have graduated from college. Furthermore, a 2017 DHHS study found that there was a $63 billion positive fiscal impact from refugees over a 10-year period! (4) Like that neighbor who appreciated the plate of cookies when they moved in, these refugee families appreciate the efforts made by their new neighbors. They often give back to those who helped them! Remember the apartment that I set up with KindWorks in October in Riverdale (Project #9)? Well, they invited me and the others back to their place for a thank you lunch! Coincidentally, it was today right after the meeting at mom's house. I can't even begin to describe how wonderful it was. Without speaking any english, each child greeted me at the door with a smile and firm handshake. The mother cooked up a storm and provided a lunch worthy of any restaurant. The father and his cousin (a former refugee as well) entertained us, expressed his gratitude, and was an amazing host. Enjoy the pictures of our lunch!
So, why are we not extending open arms to refugees both before and after they arrive? Please consider acting and making your voice heard!