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Help new residents in our community

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Zoë Houlihan, guest columnist

As a refugee resettlement agency, Catholic Charities witnesses first hand both the triumph and struggles refugees experience daily as they relocate to a new country. For these families, Iowa is a home with a new culture, customs, norms, tastes, language, neighbors … everything. Sure, it is a triumph to have been granted the opportunity to escape persecution, war, and oppression, but we must also remember that in trade for their safety, refugees have left their homeland, and everyone and everything they know. And, they didn’t leave by choice.

After a rigorous and prolonged journey to the United States, refugee families begin to assimilate to their new life with limited community support. As we witness it at Catholic Charities, refugees step up to this challenge readily and with grace as hardworking, contributing new members of the communities they join.

Catholic Charities serves a very specific purpose in the refugee resettlement process, focusing on helping to reunite families. In this program, Refugee Resettlement case managers spend the first 90 days after a refugee’s arrival with intensive support and guidance, providing essential core services necessary for every refugee arriving in the United States. Catholic Charities assists the newcomers to secure housing, food, clothing, medical services, school enrollment, employment, and more, in order to promote the overall goal of the family’s self-sufficiency.

Ninety days is not a long time to organize the life of a family in a foreign land. “What happens next,” you ask? Glad you did. The Families Strengthening Families volunteer mentoring program at Catholic Charities was designed to engage churches and community groups in the refugee resettlement process beyond the first 90 days.

Families Strengthening Families was launched in March to assist refugees from the day they arrive in the United States through their first six months, in order to strengthen the initial resettlement period. Establishing a relationship with a group or individual starting on their first day in the United States eases the transition for refugees at “Day 91” when they are no longer assisted by a Catholic Charities case manager. Mentoring groups are matched to a refugee family in order to help with assimilation to the culture, broadening their network of connections, and navigating their new community. Congregations of any denomination as well as community groups are welcome and encouraged to take part in the Families Strengthening Families mentoring program.

Current resettlements facilitated by Catholic Charities are taking place in Cedar Rapids, Postville, and Waterloo. In the past year, Catholic Charities has resettled refugees from Bhutan, Burma (Myanmar), the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan. Catholic Charities has a long history in refugee resettlement, having provided reception and placement services since the 1940s, responding to needs resulting from World War II.

Mentoring has already begun in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo. Those interested in volunteering in this program are encouraged to engage with us before peak arrival season at the end of summer and may contact Agnes Kress, Catholic Charities Volunteer Coordinator, at a.kress@dbqarch.org or (319) 272-2080 for more information.

• Zoë Houlihan is Community Outreach Director of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. More information: www.CatholicCharitiesDubuque.org

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