An astounding level of cooperation and creative engagement is helping emergency evacuees from Afghanistan settle into their new life in Central Missouri.
Catholic Charities Refugee Services staff and volunteers have been working tirelessly to resettle 289 Afghan evacuees since Sept. 26, in addition to dozens of refugees from countries across the globe.
Catholic Charities Refugee Services is the only agency in Central Missouri authorized to work with the government to resettle refugees in the area.
Many of the women from Afghanistan who are newly resettled are pregnant or have newborn babies.
University of Missouri International Programs, MU Healthcare, and Catholic Charities Refugee Services organized a baby shower to help 18 of these women and their families.
The Jan. 31 event held at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Columbia, gave employees from across the University of Missouri system an opportunity to help welcome these new mothers.
“Late last year, we learned that some of the 270 new Afghan refugees to Columbia were pregnant or had recently had babies,” said Mary Stegmaier, the university’s vice provost for international programs.
“Many of these women have been completely uprooted and they don’t have the family support structure that they are used to,” she stated. “The goal of the shower was to welcome these moms to our community and provide some of the necessities their babies need to be happy and healthy.”
The International Programs team worked with case managers to identify the items that were most needed by the mothers.
Then, Paulina Brouder, associate director of the study abroad program, created an online sign-up that fellow “Mizzou Tigers” shared with their various networks.
Ms. Brouder said the sign-ups rolled in quickly.
“It was really heartwarming to see the outpouring of support for this effort,” she stated. “Mizzou is a land-grant institution, and we are ‘for the people.’ Serving our community in this space is just one way we’re fulfilling that mission.”
Many Mizzou faculty and staff members also signed up to donate items, including cribs, clothes, diapers and more.
“I’m a mother, and I was able to grow into that role with the support of a community of women and men who knew what it was like to care for a tiny human,” said Sheri-Marie Harrison, an associate professor of English who donated to the shower.
“I donated to make sure I did my part for another mother in our community who needs this kind of help. It’s help that every mother needs,” she said.
Right at home
One of the most urgent needs for arriving refugees is a roof over their heads.
Helias Catholic High School is providing a home and all utilities, rent-free, to a family of eight who arrived in Jefferson City Jan. 21.
“We’re blessed that we can pick up all the costs on it,” said John Knight, president of Helias Catholic. “That’s all being done through the generosity of the Helias community, which is just wonderful.”
Upon arriving in Jefferson City last July to accept his new role, Mr. Knight found out about some properties the school has acquired in hopes of expanding its footprint someday.
“Early to mid-fall, I read in the (Jefferson City) News-Tribune that Catholic Charities would be looking for homes for refugees from Afghanistan,” he recalled. “That jumped out at me. We can do this!”
He contacted CCCNMO Executive Director Dan Lester, who later met with Mr. Knight and Martha Means, Catholic Charities’ refugee resettlement AmeriCorps VISTA.
“We had the house,” said Mr. Knight. “I knew it was not being used. It was in livable condition. In fact, it was in way-better than livable condition.
“So our message was: We would like to give you the house rent-free and we’ll pay the utilities,” he said. “We want to be a good neighbor, but most importantly, to take care of those who are most in need in the world.”
The house needed a new furnace. Catholic Charities and Helias Catholic split the cost for that.
Sister Jean Dietrich of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the school’s office administrator and former principal, also serves as Helias Catholic’s liaison to Catholic Charities. Taking the lead on this project, she and Helias Catholic Assistant Principal/Activities Director Dwayne Clingman helped acquire and deliver some furniture for the home.
“Sr. Jean reminded me how when the first members of her congregation arrived here in the 1800s, they worked with a large population of immigrants from Germany,” Mr. Knight recalled.
The family includes a father, a mother and six children ranging in age from 2 months to 11 years.
A group of volunteers from First Presbyterian Church in Jefferson City is helping the family get settled and acclimated through Catholic Charities Refugee Services’ Community Sponsorship Program.
“We’re thrilled that the family is settling in with help from them and help from us,” Mr. Knight stated.
He said having the family move into a home owned by Helias Catholic makes them “part of our extended family.”
“I can’t imagine leaving home and waking up the next day in a city in the middle of another country,” he stated. “What they must be experiencing is incomprehensible to me. Which is why I’m so happy that Helias can be part of a welcome that speaks to the fundamentals of our Catholic faith.”
Parishes and schools in the Jefferson City diocese have pitched in to help in various ways.
For instance, several schools are incorporating care for refugees into their celebration of Catholic Schools Week.
St. Francis Xavier School in Taos and Immaculate Conception School in Jefferson City are holding a food drive for refugees, based on the Critical Needs List provided by Catholic Charities Refugee Services.
Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City is collecting personal hygiene products for refugees.
Christmas presented another giving opportunity.
Kindergartners at Immaculate Conception School in Loose Creek organized a drive during Advent to collect needed items for refugee families.
Members of St. Michael Parish in Russellville collected boxes of donated clothing, diapers and baby items for refugees.
The Student Council at Fr. McCartan Memorial School in Marceline held a gift card drive for Catholic Charities Refugee Services, to help refugees buy basic necessities.
The Contemporary Group at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Columbia presented a “Farewell to Christmas” concert and Christmas carol sing-along after the Saturday evening Mass on Jan. 8. A free-will offering was taken up to benefit refugee resettlement. People contributed over $1,800.
Last fall, as the refugees began arriving, students and staff of St. Peter Interparish School in Jefferson City collected and participated in donating over $1,200 in gift cards for Afghan refugees.
“We greatly appreciate the hard work and generosity people are showing throughout the diocese,” said Mr. Lester. “We love that our parishes and schools are centers of charity and mercy.”
In addition, Catholic Charities Refugee Services participated in Columbia’s CoMoGives end-of-year giving campaign, collecting $23,126 in total gifts from 133 supporters.
Samantha Moog, director of Catholic Charities Refugee Services, expressed her gratitude.
“Your support of our work with Afghan refugees, your personal donations, have allowed us at Catholic Charities Refugee Services to stretch our dollars and fund projects and needs quickly,” she stated.
“We have resettled an unprecedented number of refugees in the past three months — we’ll have helped over 300 people by the end of this year. I just want to say, thank you so much.”
For additional assistance with resettlement efforts, the public is encouraged to donate by texting “WelcomeMO” to 91999, giving online at cccnmo.diojeffcity.org/give, or mailing a check payable to CCCNMO to PO Box 104626, Jefferson City, MO 65110-4626.
For information about Community Sponsorship of refugees, visit:
Contributing to this report was Deidra Ashley at the University of Missouri.