Thursday, April 21, 2011

Adopt-A-Refugee Program through USCRI

Some time ago we met with Valerie and her U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) Des Moines staff to talk through the need and details of the adopt-a-refugee program that would be launched. Two of Valerie’s staff members are themselves former refugees. They have been successful here in the United States, and both of their stories had one common denominator, which you will be reading about in this post. As each of these staff members shared their stories, I was blown away by their memories and details of what it was like for them personally to have fled their home country, only to end up alone and in a sort of cultural and emotional shock in the United States.

Just take a minute and try to put yourself into the shoes of a new refugee arrival. Imagine waking up in Des Moines, IA the day after you arrive from your country. Picture the fears of getting lost if you venture outside of your apartment. You don’t know English, you don’t know how to ride the bus, you don’t even know where the grocery store is. You have no friends and no family around. What is your first move? Where do you go? What do you do? How do you get a job? How do you get a phone? How do you get a driver’s license? Not to mention, all of this is thrown on top of the fact that you have literally fled your home country because of persecution, war, or violence. Jake and I were able to hear the details of one of the recent families who arrived. One refugee’s leg was broken by government military as punishment for the ethnic tribe he belonged to as well as for his Christian beliefs. Today he still walks with a limp because he never received medical care. Another refugee witnessed the murder of her brother being shot in the head by military in her home right before she came to America.

These are just a few core examples of why it is integral that USCRI match new arrivals with people in the community who will support, encourage, and teach the refugees about life in America. Human contact/relationships are a vital aspect of helping refugees become successful. Therefore, other than donations and volunteers, USCRI is also looking for people who are interested in investing time into creating relationships with refugees.

This is NOT a huge time commitment. We are literally talking 1-2 hours a week of individuals meeting up with the refugee family and making an effort to help them get started on the right foot. This is a small gesture but it does a world of good. If a refugee can wake up in the morning and know that someone cares, just imagine how that will boost their courage and confidence. The end goal of USCRI is to enable the refugees to become self-sufficient. This starts with making connections and relationships with others in the community.

One of the most important aspects of this commitment to ‘adopt’ a refugee and/or family is giving them more opportunities to interact using English. USCRI provides English classes to the new arrivals, however, if the refugees get the opportunity to practice English in conversations, they will learn it much faster. Other facets of this relational commitment could be: showing them where certain places are (grocery store, library, bus stops, etc.), having them over for dinner every once in awhile, taking them to church, introducing them to others in the community so they can begin to make friends/connections, possibly even helping them on their job search, etc. Refugees are employable from the moment they arrive in the U.S. (part of the resettlement program is that they receive a social security # and Medicaid). This is another of USCRI’s short-term goals - to help the refugees find jobs.

If you are interested in learning more about this program you are asked to contact Valerie directly at This adopt-a-refugee program will involve a screening process and a scheduled time with USCRI staff to introduce participants to the refugee family they are matched with. It must be emphasized that although this is not a high time commitment, it is important that participants are really ready to be committed to their refugee family. These refugees have experienced so much loss and disruption already, it would be unfortunate for them to experience more of the same in a setting that is made to help and encourage them.

And that’s the scoop on the adopt-a-refugee program! I also wanted to include a quick update from Valerie that I received yesterday:

It’s been a crazy few weeks here at USCRI. We had three arrivals come in the last week, and ended up moving them into their apartments in the freezing rain! But we got it all done- thanks also to some amazing volunteers we have. Two of them found out about us directly through your blog, so again, a huge thank you to you! Our storage units are FULL of the amazing donations we have received from Kingdom Hoops!

Many arrivals will be coming this summer and all the donations will be going to very needy families.

Also, just a reminder about our Open House on Friday, May 6 from 6-8 pm at our finished office space downstairs at Park Fair Mall (100 Euclid Ave, Des Moines, IA 50313)!!!!!

Check out for more updated pics on our arrivals/apartments!

What an AWESOME update! Thanks to all of YOU blog readers who have turned your compassion into ACTION!

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