Missouri’s efforts to partner with local communities and organizations to resettle a wave of refugees from Afghanistan is garnering national attention.
On Thursday, Dec. 2, the Missouri Office of Refugee Administration hosted former Delaware Governor Jack Markell, the White House coordinator for Operation Allies Welcome, a federal task force responsible for the effort to resettle 125,000 Afghan refugees in 200 communities across the nation.
Additional members of the task force included representatives from the U.S. State Department, the National Security Council, and the operational chief of staff.
Local resettlement agencies, including Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri (CCCNMO), were invited to visit with the task force, covering a range of topics surrounding Afghan refugee resettlement.
“We’re here today to learn about the processes on the ground,” Gov. Markell stated as the meeting surrounding Community Sponsorships kicked off at the Kansas City Public Library in Kansas City, Missouri.
Samantha Moog, Director of Catholic Charities Refugee Services, opened the discussion by introducing the community sponsorship program CCCNMO is relying on to help settle Afghan refugee family groups in Columbia, Fulton and Jefferson City.
“The twin goals of community sponsorships are to enhance our agency capacity to resettle more refugees, and to ensure that the community integration for refugees is successful long-term,” Ms. Moog shared.
Within community sponsorships, Catholic Charities Refugee Services can delegate many resettlement tasks to the sponsor group. Community sponsors then take on the responsibility of securing affordable housing, collecting furniture and other household items, and helping refugees access additional public benefits when eligible.
Sponsors are committed to accompanying refugees integrating into the community, by working alongside case managers to enroll children in school, aid in job searches, and provide transportation to appointments and shopping trips.
In mid-Missouri, churches and non-faith-based community groups alike have stepped up to answer the call to help refugees resettle into local communities.
In early November, the Fulton Rotary Club of Fulton, Missouri, was the first fully onboarded community sponsor in Central Missouri, working within the greater Fulton community to prepare for a refugee family of 13.
More recently, Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia was matched with two refugee families.
“We have trained, vetted, and fully onboarded the two community sponsorship groups so far in Fulton and Columbia, with plans to onboard three more Catholic parishes as community sponsors in the Central Missouri area before the end of this week,” Ms. Moog reported to the task force.
“For context,” CCCNMO Executive Director Dan Lester reminded the group, “our agency’s previous record resettlement efforts took place in 2016, having resettled 229 refugees over a 12-month period.
“This year, we have resettled 217 Afghan refugee families, including four newborn babies, in an 8-week period.”
Task force member and National Security Council Director of Refugees, Jacqui Pilch, complimented Catholic Charities Refugee Services’ efforts to include community sponsorships as an avenue to expand the capacity of resettlement agencies.
“I can see that the work you’re doing, in figuring this piece out, is not only going to help the cohort of Afghan refugees coming now,” she said, “but also lay the foundation that allows us to grow the resettlement system to the scale we need it to be.”
“You are on the forefront of making that happen,” Ms. Pilch said.
Governor Markell agreed.
“It’s really exciting to hear about the work that you’re doing,” he stated. “This is the work we talk a lot about, and to meet the people in this room who are essentially doing the work is really quite remarkable.”
CCCNMO, an entity of the Diocese of Jefferson City, responds to the needs of people in 38 counties regardless of faith, culture, or situation.
This includes services for refugees and immigrants, those with food insecurity, mental health needs, health and nutrition education, basic household, and shelter needs.
For more information, visit cccnmo.diojeffcity.org.
Mrs. Wiskirchen is director of communications for Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.