Catholic, Jewish orgs work to find homes for arriving Afghan refugees

BOSTON -- Three months after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, prompting hundreds of thousands to evacuate the country, Catholic Charities and its Jewish community partners have helped dozens of Afghan immigrants to find homes and begin new lives in the Greater Boston Area.

In a webinar held on Nov. 22, titled "Together We Respond," representatives of Catholic Charities of Boston (CCAB), Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) shared updates about how they have served people arriving from Afghanistan over the past few months. They expressed gratitude for each other's partnership and for the many donors and volunteers who have supported their efforts.

Marjean Perhot, CCAB's director of Refugee and Immigrant Services, said the recent arrivals have included both single people and families, from children as young as two months to adults in their 60s. At the time of the webinar, the number of Afghans that CCAB had resettled was at about 40; at the time of this printing, it is over 90.

"With your continued generous donations, you have become part of the national humanitarian effort to resettle over 60,000 Afghan people," Perhot said during the webinar.

Rachel Lewis, JCRC's director of synagogue organizing, spoke about her organization's involvement in this effort. JCRC does not provide direct services but mobilizes communities and connects people to resources. To coordinate with CCAB in helping Afghan refugees, they have identified leaders and communities that are able and willing to step up when needed.

Lewis shared that JCRC has established over 25 congregational sponsorships to support arriving Afghans. Some of these are multi-faith coalitions, while others are individual congregations, such as parishes that have become POWIR (Parishes Organized to Welcome Immigrants and Refugees) sites. Team leaders meet regularly and support each other by sharing resources, such as leads on housing and employment opportunities.

"Being able to do this all together for so many people makes it possible to ensure that these families have a good beginning after such deep unsteadiness," Lewis said.

CCAB has helped Afghan families find homes across the Greater Boston area, as far north as Ipswich and as far south as Hyannis. Perhot said they try to place multiple families close to each other so they can start to build communities of Afghans.

Perhot said what has most surprised her is the pace of arrivals. She said that they normally would consider 14 days to be short notice, but now they sometimes have only two or three days to prepare. Then, when she asks Lewis who is ready to receive the new arrivals, people are stepping up to arrange housing for the families and provide them with furniture, meals with food they will recognize, toys for children, and other necessities.

"In that short timeframe, we're asking people to do that, to also make it so lovingly welcome is just incredible," Perhot said.

She described how the Afghan families arrive at the airport full of fear and concern, which lessens when they see volunteers from CCAB or local faith communities greeting them and holding signs that say "Welcome" in Dari or Pashto.

"I can't say enough about people's generosity toward the Afghans, and the level of care and precision and planning that goes into all of these apartments that people are furnishing. People are doing a lot of their own research and trying to make everything as hospitable as possible," Perhot said, speaking to The Pilot on Dec. 3.

As the families adjust to their new homes, CCAB helps them with referrals for public benefits and resources like healthcare, English classes, gym memberships, and school enrollment for children. They also help the families find social and cultural support, such as by locating the nearest mosque or finding food pantries that serve halal foods.

Donations to CCAB's refugee services cover the costs of rent and utilities for the families until the adults are gainfully employed.

In the wake of the Taliban takeover in August, CJP set up a Fund for Afghan Immigrants and Refugees (FAIR) to support CCAB's immigration services as well as Jewish Vocational Service, which helps immigrants with employment-based needs.

During the webinar, Sarah Abramson, CJP's senior vice president of strategy and impact, reported that 1,000 donors had contributed to the Afghan fund, raising $700,000.

With Thanksgiving coming up later that week, Abramson said, she was reminded of the America "that I hope all of us on this call aspire to enact."

"We are rewriting the Thanksgiving story. There are new people in our country, thanks to all of you, who will have their first American Thanksgiving, and we know that it is gratitude to all of you that they will express," she said.

Kelley Tuthill, CCAB's chief operating officer, moderated questions from people watching the webinar. She also shared that her own parish just welcomed an Afghan family with two children, ages one and two years old.

"As a mom, picturing that, starting over like that with children that young, how difficult that must be. But I can tell you, the parishioners at my church are so excited to welcome them and view them as an extension of their own family," Tuthill said.

Perhot said they will continue pursuing their goal to resettle 150 Afghans in the Greater Boston Area, with most of them arriving before Christmas. She later told The Pilot that there is an effort underway to get all waiting Afghan refugees off U.S. military bases by February.

"I would not be surprised if every single week we have a couple of cases come in," she said.