New London church buys home to welcome refugees

New London — A local church has taken the lead in a grassroots effort to welcome and house refugees in the city.

All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church completed the purchase of a home at 25 Jay St. last week with plans to begin renovations and provide a “soft landing” for incoming families in the months ahead.

Just where the families are coming from is unknown, but the U.S. has predicted it will accept 30,000 more refugees a year by 2017, in the wake of the crisis sparked by Syrians fleeing their worn-torn country. President Barack Obama has set a goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees before the end of this year.

The church’s purchase is part of a larger regional effort by religious and community groups, led by the Greater New London Clergy Association, to help relocate and support refugee families through the New Haven-based Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services. IRIS resettles about 200 refugees each year in Connecticut from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Congo, Iran and Iraq.

Ledyard Congregational Church secured a rental earlier this month and expects to welcome a Syrian family in the coming months.

The home purchased by All Souls is adjacent to the church and a natural fit for the church’s mission — to be a welcoming, caring and justice-seeking congregation, said All Souls Pastor Carolyn Patierno.

“The congregation is very excited,” Patierno said. “This is a unique opportunity to fill a very specific need in the whole resettlement process. This feels like a powerful expression of who we are.”

Patierno said the home will accommodate at most two apartments and could be home to several individuals or one large family, depending on the number of people. She expects renovations to be completed by August.

“We want to bring it back to life, be welcoming and a nice place for a family to land,” Patierno said.

She expects that families or individuals will stay for three to six months in order to get their footing.

“This house will be the first step in the process, knowing it’s difficult to find affordable housing and a landlord willing to provide short-term rentals, she said.

Patierno said IRIS has identified New London as an ideal community for refugees because of access to public transportations, support services and the walkability of the downtown area.

“Knowing that, we wanted to make it possible to serve more than one family in succession,” she said.

All Souls plans to fund the renovations and paid $85,000 for the home, according to city records.

The idea of welcoming refugees in southeastern Connecticut began last fall when an effort called “10 in 10” was formed — a plan to prepare 10 cities and towns in Connecticut to take in 10 refugee families, said New London resident Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of The Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

He said when the initial call to action occurred at about the time an image circulated worldwide of a Syrian toddler lying face down on a beach in Turkey, one of numerous Syrians who have drowned attempting to reach Greece.

“People were sick of watching TV and feeling helpless,” he said. “It’s really great to see how Connecticut is responding on a grassroots level.”

While the housing segment of the effort was pursued by All Souls, other groups and committees are simultaneously working on the different elements of the resettling process — obtaining Social Security cards, medical examinations, enrolling children in school, providing cultural orientation and helping families seek employment.

New London activist Ron Ward helped form the New London Area Refugee Resettlement Team, which will take the lead in sponsoring families coming into the New London area.

Ward, group co-leader Cheryl Molina and the Rev. Anne E. Fuhrmeister from Crossroads Presbyterian Church in Waterford have branded themselves Start Fresh and attended mandatory training with IRIS. They are now holding regular organizational meetings to get more people involved and to raise funds.

“We’re hoping our work will pick up and our goal is to get to the point of settling one family a month,” Ward said.

They are now one of nine co-sponsor groups across the state, most taking on one family.

“We’re looking at creating something that’s more robust,” Ward said.

New London Area Refugee Resettlement Team will hold another informational meeting from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday at Crossroads Presbyterian Church at 70 Cross Road in Waterford.

g.smith@theday.com

 

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