New London to host family of Syrian refugees

New London — Seven members of a Syrian family who fled their war-torn country in search of a better life were expected to arrive Tuesday at their new home here.

They were to be greeted by a sign on the front door of the four-bedroom apartment with the word “welcome” written in English and Arabic — one of the final touches from the group of volunteers that has spent months working to prepare for the family’s arrival.

The New London Area Refugee Settlement Team co-sponsored the family through the New Haven-based Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, which settles about 200 refugees each year in Connecticut.

The local team, known by the name Start Fresh, is represented by a host of volunteers associated with New London-area faith groups that have pitched in to make it possible to start the resettlement process.

The entire effort came from the call to action by members of the Greater New London Clergy Association.

The refugee family arriving late Tuesday will be New London’s first but not the last, according to Ron Ward, a founder and co-leader of the Start Fresh group.

He said if resources allow it, the group will settle a refugee family in the area every two to three months and become a meaningful part of the effort to take in the 10,000 refugees that President Barack Obama has pledged.

“We’re in this for the long haul. We want to meet the needs of families that have been disrupted and run out of their own homelands due to war. This is not just a one-off situation,” Ward said.

He said he expects a family of three to arrive next month and thinks a home purchased at 25 Jay St. by All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church earlier this year as part of the same effort may be ready for another family in September.

That home is under renovation and is expected to serve as a “soft landing,” or temporary home, for incoming families from places such as Syria, Iran and Afghanistan.

For the past month, however, the New London apartment was the sole focus.

Volunteers cleaned, polished floors, filled cupboards with culturally appropriate food and delivered furniture.

Start Fresh declined to publicly reveal the location of the apartment "out of respect for the family — their dignity and privacy."

"This is going to be their permanent home for as long as they choose to be here," Ward said.

The apartment has been furnished in part through the efforts of the Mystic Congregational Church, which formed a relationship with New Haven-based group more than a year ago. Temple Emmanuel in Waterford donated housewares, such as bedding.

The family was to be picked up from New Haven in three vans loaned by the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut.

Two interpreters were to be be present to meet the family, including one from the Islamic Center of New London.

“It’s a great effort with people taking on different roles,” said Mystic Congregational member Kathy Parker. “Different groups and different people in the community are taking different pieces.”

The Start Fresh team had not previously met the family, but knows the refugees come by way of Jordan, where they have been living for the past few years, according to Start Fresh co-leader Cheryl Molina.

The Kabny family — Ahmad, Halima, Khawla, Mohammed, Heba, Toka and Amal — comprises a mother, father and their four daughters and one son. The children range in age from 11 to 20.

They do not speak English.

Start Fresh will take responsibility for the family for 6 to 9 months, helping the members seek jobs, enroll in school and start learning English.

“The point is for them to become self-sufficient,” Molina said.

Money for the rent and other expenses temporarily are paid for through a communitywide effort.

Start Fresh plans to raise at least $3,000 per family.

The families will qualify for a combination of state and federal benefits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, once they obtain their Social Security numbers.

Molina said Start Fresh is exploring a model set by the Providence Granola Project — producing and selling granola as a way to provide refugees with job experience while generating funds for the effort to resettle more families.

g.smith@theday.com

Editor's note: The Islamic Center of New London was misidentified as the Islamic Center of Groton in a previous version of this story.

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