Congregational Treasures. Apr. 9, 2018.

When UUCF contemplated sponsoring a refugee family in 2016, a large group of eager congregants came to the first meeting knowing only that they wanted to help a family fleeing violence get settled and assimilate successfully in the U.S.

About 15 UUCFers and many from our partners at UU Sterling came together to review the refugee sponsorship options offered by Lutheran Social Services. The group reviewed information on how much money should be raised and all the different teams needed to support the family in its first year, including apartment rentals, food, transportation and English instruction. The UUCF/UUCS team, of course, chose the most challenging level of sponsorship – full support for a year. The UUCF Coordinating Team affirmed this decision and agreed to support the family’s rental needs for 1 year.

The two congregations welcomed Marzia, a widow from Afghanistan, her son, Munib, and daughter, Sahra, into sponsorship in September 2016.

Being in a privileged bubble as native English speakers who understand U.S. culture, customs and processes – not to mention working with a resettlement agency that offered minimal support – the group found itself assisting the family almost daily and realized quickly that the teams it had been asked to assemble met only a fraction of the family’s support needs.

The group adapted, formed new teams and became a well-oiled machine of researchers, interpreters, troubleshooters, paper pushers, tech experts, health care system liaisons, social program advocates, school liaisons, job searchers and furniture movers, drivers and experts on public transportation, to name only a few of the jobs the group has done.

Rod Paolini led the team through its first year with the following team members volunteering hundreds of hours to helping with various aspects of assimilation: Ann King, Nancy Meidenbauer, Karen Monroe, Jean Robinson, Bea and Dick Shields, Malaika Walton and Cathy Woehrle. Other volunteers in that first year included Carla de Chassy, Jennifer Damashek, Chris Grubb, Gladys Henrikson, Sue Kenny-Pfalzer, Mary Lareau, Ann Marquis, Jennifer McLaughlin, not to mention a stalwart team from UU Sterling.

Ann King, the new project leader since last October says that Marzia has made tremendous progress toward self-sufficiency and has continually expressed gratitude to the volunteers and the two congregations. After a year partnering with Marzia, the team realized it would take another year for the family to gain the skills, income and confidence to be on their own. The CT recently approved another year of support, which ends this fall.

Over the 18 months, the volunteer team has winnowed down to a core group of dedicated volunteers. The team’s focus until the end of the year is on helping Marzia find a full-time job that can support her family (the child care center where she worked 35 hours a week is closing and she just lost her job there). The team is also helping her become more fluent in English with 15 hours/week of English classes; find permanent and more affordable housing, become more involved in supporting her children at school; and fully understanding and meeting the demands of social services documentation.

In addition to Ann, the current team of UUCF volunteers includes members of the core group as well as new volunteers: Carla de Chassy, Gladys Henrikson, Nancy Meidenbauer, Rod Paolini, Jean Robinson, Earl Salo, Bea Shields, Jackie and Kurt Siebert, and Nancy Smith. They invite all who want to engage in this rewarding and compassionate work to join them.