The Long Welcome
Last month, we met an Afghan family sponsored by Kittamaqundi Community Church, who resettled in the area approximately seven years ago. Some of us had the opportunity to speak with them in person after worship—to hear first-hand how much it meant to be in relationship with the people of Kittamaqundi, as they oriented to life in a strange country and worked toward becoming self-sufficient. Their visit helped affirm our decision to apply to co-sponsor one of the many families currently resettling from Afghanistan.
We’ve heard it called “The Long Welcome,” to reflect its long-term, broad-scope commitment. Given that we officially applied for co-sponsorship on September 25th, The Long Welcome has initially been a long wait. As one of the thousands of organizations that offered to become co-sponsors, we’ve been waiting for a resettlement agency to contact us about the next steps. But we didn’t just wait—we began planning what would need to be in place to support a refugee family—a process that included identifying key leadership positions and basic ministry structure.
Just this week, we finally proceeded to our next step: beginning the screening and orientation process under the local Lutheran Social Services (LSS) resettlement agency—bringing us one step closer to connecting with an incoming family. LSS calls us “Good Neighbor Partners,” as we will offer an essential level of commitment, continuity, and care for a refugee family that resettles in this area.
As Good Neighbor Partners, we’ve committed to supporting a family for one year, including providing rent assistance for nine months and additional support encompassing arranging suitable housing, acquiring household goods, obtaining public benefits, transportation, job development, healthcare advocacy, school system navigation, mentoring, and much more.
Thirty-three parishioners, along with four additional people from partner-organization Religious Society of Friends (the Quakers), have committed to actively serving in this ministry. Additionally, we’ve been networking with organizations experienced in the resettlement process, including Luminous of Howard County, a long-standing support organization for immigrants that has offered to serve as a resource to us. We’re also engaged in discussion with several local faith communities that are considering partnering with us in this endeavor.
As your Deacon, I’m awed by Christ Church’s response in stepping up to meet the needs of the world. It’s exciting to see how much people care and want to help—a true testament to what it means to love our neighbors, to seek and serve Christ in all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.
As we proceed on this journey, there’s much work to be done, and it will take many people and much dedication to ensure we can successfully support a refugee family.
What Do We Have in Place?
We recently identified parishioners to fill key roles in the ministry. First, Cherryllynn Williams and Jan DeBoissiere have stepped up to co-lead our ministry group. They will organize focus groups, run ministry meetings and delegate initial tasks, and oversee communications to the ministry.
Additionally, Diana Hall will serve as Finance Coordinator. As our primary liaison to Christ Church’s Treasurer, Diana will track all financial donations to the ministry and all expenditures in support of our assigned family.
We have quite a head start in this area, thanks to a very generous contribution from one of our parishioners that will enable us to fully cover the first three months' rent for the family. Our Fundraising Focus Group will be planning ways to collect additional funds we know we’ll need to help support this family for The Long Welcome.
Finally, Pat DeLorenzo and Paula Rees will work together as our Support/Logistics Coordinators. In this critical role, they’ll be the on-call point people the family will contact when they need something and will coordinate responses from our roster of active volunteers.
What Are the Next Steps?
1) Background Checks: We’re providing LSS contact information on our 37 active volunteers for background checks. Anyone who will have contact of any duration with the family—even to drop off a meal—must complete this screening. Volunteers will soon receive a link via email to complete the screening by December 4th.
2) Orientation: All volunteers who will have contact with the family must also complete a virtual LSS orientation/training session. That session is scheduled for Thursday, December 9th, 7:00-8:30 p.m. Two make-up sessions will be available on Monday, December 13th, and Monday, December 20th from 6:00-7:30 p.m., for those who can’t make the initial session.
3) Assignment: Once we complete background checks and orientation for all active volunteers, LSS will match us with an incoming family. Once the assignment occurs, we then wait for LSS to receive the family’s travel date from wherever they’re temporarily housed/being processed. Generally, LSS gets notice of a travel date one-two weeks in advance. Once they’re notified, they let us know and work with us to prepare for the family’s imminent arrival.
Given this process, most likely our assigned family won’t actually arrive in Maryland until after Christmas. While we don’t currently have an exact date and don’t know the exact makeup of the family, the leadership team is in full swing planning for the things we can put in place now. Focus groups are forming around Housing Set-up, Transportation, Fundraising/In-Kind Donations, Job Development, English as a Second Language (ESL) Assistance, and Benefits/Resources.
How Can You Help?
If you’re interested in supporting one of our focus groups, please reach out to Jan and Cherryllynn. There will be many tasks, and some will not require direct contact with the family and thus not require background checks/orientation. But as new people wish to join the active volunteer roster, we’ll get them cleared and trained.
Beyond this, at the moment, our #1 priority is arranging housing. We signed up to do this so we could ensure the family will be located in reasonable proximity to our volunteers. And a primary concern is that the housing is financially sustainable for the family long-term, once they no longer receive rent support/assistance. A secondary consideration is a proximity to public transportation. Our leadership team has begun researching suitable options within a 15-mile radius of Christ Church and will be reaching out to make inquiries about leasing offices. Ideally, we’ll find an apartment the family can settle into long-term and are considering nearby areas including North Laurel, Elkridge, Jessup, and Burtonsville. If you have a solid lead on a housing option or a connection to a landlord/leasing office, please reach out to Jan and Cherryllynn.
Additionally, if you’d like to make a financial donation specifically for this ministry, those funds will be used to directly support the family with things like rent assistance, household supplies, school supplies, gift cards, etc. When submitting your donation, please mark the memo line (either on your check or online) with the notation “For the Refugee Ministry.”
Christ Church has so many talents and gifts to share, and we hope you’ll embark on this journey with us in some way. Our next ministry meeting will be Tuesday, November 23rd, from 6:30-7:30 p.m., with regular weekly meetings to follow on Thursdays from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Please check our weekly Monday emails for Zoom details. If you have any questions about this ministry, please don’t hesitate to email me, Jan, or Cherryllynn. Thank you for all that you do to serve the needs of the world.