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‘I Think It’s Great When People Can Help People Outside Of Themselves’: Here Are Some of the Community Members Working to Welcome Refugees and Migrants

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The vast majority of Americans support the welcoming of refugees who are escaping violence and war – and we are seeing that in action in communities all over the nation.

In Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County, Jill Goldstone recruited several of her neighbors to sign up for Welcoming Corps, the federal program that has allowed 15,000 Americans across 32 states to sponsor more than 7,000 refugees to date. While Goldstone didn’t know much about the program, the issue is deeply personal, The Philadelphia Citizen reported. “Goldstone’s grandmother was a Jewish refugee who emigrated to the United States from Poland when she was 16 years old because of the Holocaust. The rest of her family, who were not lucky enough to emigrate, were killed.”

“I think it’s great when people can help people outside of themselves,” Goldstone told the outlet. “That’s part of the problem we have in this country with political things. We don’t know each other.”

This group of neighbors, now known as the Rydal Refugee Resettlement Committee (RRRC), welcomed their first refugee in August 2023. “Sal,” a Congolese farmer, had spent two decades living in a Tanzanian refugee camp. RRRC eventually helped connect him with a son in Ohio, where he now lives. In January, RRRC welcomed John Morales, Valentina Godoy, and 7-year-old Alan Godoy, a Venezuelan family that criminal groups had targeted. Alan craved “American” food the night after arriving, The Philadelphia Citizen said. “Specifically: a Hawaiian pizza, which Goldstone happily ordered for delivery.”

“Over the last month, at least one member of the RRRC has visited the Morales Godoy family each day,” the outlet continued. “The group members take the family to the grocery store, doctor, bank, and language classes. They hosted a seventh birthday party for Alan, and were with him when he saw snow for the first time.” But the family had also expressed the desire to be self-sufficient. Fortunately, both Valentina and John quickly found work.

Self-sufficiency was very important to the family, Goldstone said. “From the minute they got off the airplane [they were] like, ‘How quickly can we work?’” There’s plenty of research showing that when newly-arrived migrants are given the chance to support themselves and their families, their communities and states benefit too. 

In Missouri’s St. Louis community, Syrian refugees Ayman Almalla and Ghaida Al Masrab told Feast Magazine that life felt isolating after arriving in the United States in 2016. “The summer we came here, we didn’t know anyone; no friends, no language … we left our families,” Almalla told the outlet. “That makes it so hard.” 

But they soon found community through the Supper Club, a Welcome Neighbor STL program that empowers refugee chefs “by providing them with financially stable jobs and the means to share their culture with their new communities,” with participants hailing from Afghanistan, Syria, Morocco, and India, Feast Magazine reported. While the initiative gives refugee chefs an opportunity to hone their skills and thrive – Almalla and Al Masrab have since launched their own catering business – it also helps connect them with their fellow neighbors. 

“When the chefs are at the Supper Club, it’s not only about cooking and serving people,” Supper Club coordinator Zohra Zaimi told Feast Magazine. “They are here at events and dinners sharing their stories with the guests, and the guests are asking questions.” Mawada Altayan and Mohi Aldeen Alhamowi, another pair of Supper Club chefs, also launched their own catering business. “They give us so many chances to enter this community, and I feel now that this is my home,” Altayan said. “This is my entry. I got my citizenship this year, and I’m very grateful for that.”

“Another way refugees get involved with their new home is by giving back to those in need,” Feast Magazine continued. “Every other Friday, the refugee chefs cook meals for 100 unhoused St. Louisans as a part of Welcome Neighbor STL’s Unhoused Meals program. For Altayan, this act of kindness is just one way to reciprocate the support she’s felt from the St. Louis community.”

Welcoming also comes in all ages. In Philadelphia, the children of immigrants are “making bags full of candy, coloring books, puzzles, small stuffed animals and pocket-size games” for newly-arrived migrant children who are staying at the Casa del Sagrado Corazon shelter in Texas, USA Today reports. 

“The temporary shelter is just one stop on a very long journey for them and their families − one that might have started in Venezuela or Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras, Colombia or Nicaragua,” USA Today reported. “It’s taken them across deserts and through jungles, far from the desperation, poverty and violence they knew at home.” While shelter director Michael DeBruhl said the facility welcomes donations, supplies for children are the most lacking. Mighty Writers, a pro-literacy group behind the “Mighty Bags” effort, felt called into action. Again, the issue is deeply personal.

“A lot of our children know about migration because they know the transition their own parents made, not necessarily as refugees but as immigrants coming to the United States,” said Mighty Writers El Paso Senior Director Sara Dickens-Trillo. In Philadelphia, Mighty Writers notes that it mentors children from families from Mexico, Central America, and South America, helping them adjust to school and the English language. “As immigrants, we bring a lot of great things to the United States,” Claudia Peregrina, an immigrant and director of Philadelphia’s Mighty Writers El Futuro, told USA Today. “We work very hard; a lot of our parents work two and three jobs.” 

DeBruhl expressed deep appreciation for the efforts. Families often arrive exhausted mentally and physically from their arduous journeys, and the gift bags allow these kids to just be kids, even if just for an afternoon. “We’re really happy they can support us and support the children,” DeBuhl told USA Today. “They can be entertained by something that keeps them using their minds creatively. That is a real boon to them, and to their parents.”