8 Ways Faith Communities Can Help

A growing number of faith communities are supporting Syrian refugee families who began arriving in our area last summer along with refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and other countries.  Community support ranges from collecting donations to family mentoring, English tutoring and providing transportation to the top level of support – sponsoring a family for one year.

For information or a briefing on the faith community’s “Welcoming Our New Neighbors” initiative, contact Patty Larson, Program Assistant, at patricia.larson@montgomerycountymd.gov or at 240-355-5140.

Here are eight suggested ways that faith communities in Montgomery County can welcome new neighbors.

home-filled-with-joy
Salima, her husband, Amisi, and their five children who fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo lived in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya for almost six years, but they now have a home full of joy. “My family and I, we are very well.” Salima pauses, “The life I had in Goma, the life I had in Kakuma, I arrived here in the United States and I want to work hard and I am strong. Where I used to be is far away. I went through difficult times there, those 5 years . . . it’s the grace of God that brought me here.” Credit: IRC, Silver SprinUpdate on Welcoming Refugees

1.Educate Your Community

2.Volunteer: Give Time & Expertise

3.Raise & Donate Money

4.Collect & Donate Goods

5.Recruit Immigration Legal Professionals

6.Be a Policy Advocate

7.Become a Physical Sanctuary

8.Foster a Child Fleeing Violence

1.Educate Your Community

Organize educational events and activities in your faith community.  Many faith communities have been successful in raising awareness through events like film nights, panel discussions, special prayer services, etc.  For example, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) sets aside one Sunday a year called “Refugee and Migrant Sunday” to educate the congregation about refugees whether fundraising, service projects or advocacy.  Resource materials can be found at http://refugeesunday.lirs.org.

2.Volunteer: Give Time & Expertise

Nonprofits that actively helping the immigrant population rely on volunteers to accomplish their goals  and have volunteer opportunities for groups and individuals. Please volunteer through one of the partner agencies.

3.Raise & Donate Money

Raise money to donate to one of the refugee and asylee support agencies. Cash contributions are extremely important for supplementing Federal funding.  Start with an activity at which your community has been successful, such as a donation drive or special appeal fundraiser.  Some churches are creating fundraising pages online to raise money to help refugees, which is an easy way for people to contribute.

4.Collect & Donate Goods

Carry out a goods drive for such things as furniture, linens, baby and kitchen items, etc. or organize a “fill-a-backpack” project for school children.  Contact a Refugee Resettlement Agency for current needs.

5.Identify & Recruit Immigration Legal Professionals

Montgomery County is in urgent need of immigration and family law attorneys (who are members of the Maryland Bar Association), particularly to assist the over 2000 unaccompanied children living in the country who are subject to deportation and whose very lives are at stake.  More lawyers are also needed for adult asylum and other immigration cases.  Providing pro bono legal assistance not only enable attorneys to fulfill their pro bono obligations, but it allows new attorneys to get training and experience.

The faith community can help by surveying your community, especially retirees, to identify       immigration legal professionals in Montgomery County.  The time commitment varies from           participating in a legal clinic for three hours to taking on an entire case.  Follow this link to the County’s Legal Immigration Services Provider network where you can select an organization and join their pro bono legal assistance team.   Montgomery County Immigration legal support

6.Be a Policy Advocate

Many nonprofit organizations that assist newcomers have advocacy programs to promote more just and effective policies and programs.  These organizations issue regular “action alerts” on immigration issues where constituents are asked to write letters or emails or call their local, state and national representatives.  If your faith community decides to become involved in advocacy, visit a like-minded organization’s website to sign up for action alerts or “like” and organization on Facebook to learn about advocacy campaigns.

 7.Become a Physical Sanctuary

Sanctuary is one of the most ancient traditions that we have as people of faith.  The ancient Hebrew people allowed temples and cities to declare themselves places of refuge for persons accused of a crime.  In 2014, a church-led Sanctuary Movement reemerged in the U.S. in response to the administration’s targeting of asylum seekers from Central America.  Churches determined that their response to the break-up of families needed to be escalated to provide safe refuge in their congregations.  There is a growing list of congregations across the country that are supporting and providing sanctuary to Central Americans and other asylum seekers who are fleeing violence in their countries.

Faith communities in Montgomery County that feel strongly that some of the administration’s current actions violate human rights and unjustly destroy families may want to take the next step and consider  becoming a Physical Sanctuary. Being a sanctuary involves providing, shelter, food, legal assistance, and other needs for immigrant families facing challenges.  For more information on how you faith community can become a sanctuary, see this resource from Church World Service:  CWS global

8.Foster a Child Fleeing Violence

Consider becoming a legal sponsor of an unaccompanied minor fleeing violence in Central America through the Maryland state foster program.  The state’s foster care website includes detailed   information on the responsibilities, requirements, training financial support and a self-assessment about considerations for becoming a foster parent.  The link is MD Foster Care