Interfaithfully Speaking: Afghan refugees find solace with voluntary, temporary housing
By Anne Thorward and Katrina Mason
As Afghan refugee families arrive in the U.S., with several headed for the San Gabriel Valley, many of us have wondered, “How can we help?”
A major need right now is temporary housing. “That’s the biggest hurdle for new arrivals,” says Anne Thorward, vice president of the board of the Newcomers Access Center (NAC), a local non-profit that helps refugees and immigrants settle in and adapt to a new and different culture.” We have volunteers offering to pick up the new arrivals from the airport but we need a place to take them.”
When our troops withdrew from Afghanistan last month, Anne stepped up her search for places for refugees to stay during their first weeks. She was happily surprised when two Claremont faith communities responded with a confident “yes.”
The Claremont Friends Meeting (Quakers) was the first to sign on. The Quakers had recent experi-ence sharing their meeting house every night for six years with homeless men and women as part of the Claremont Homeless Advocacy Program (CHAP). The pandemic drew CHAP to a close in late March 2020, and the Claremont Friends Meeting welcomed the idea of once again sharing their space with those in need. They readily agreed to house one family at a time for a three-week stay.
Meanwhile, at a military base in Virginia, three Afghan families with relatives in our area are await-ing completion of processing so that they can hop on a plane to Southern California. Among them is a family of five, two adults and three young children the Friends look forward to receiving as guests.
Where will the other two refugee families stay? A welcome gift from the Claremont School of Theology (CST) has solved that problem, and many more. The school has offered two apartments for temporary refugee housing, along with a building for the Newcomers Access Center to use as its new office. Claremont School of Theology president, Rev. Dr. Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, says of the CST gift, “Claremont School of Theology and Newcomers Access Center are aligned in many ways. Our students leave CST equipped to be agents of transformation and healing in churches, communities, and classrooms across the world, and we are deeply committed to diversity in all its forms. NAC’s vision is to build a more just and peaceful society. We are honored to help and to play a small part in assisting people who have been through so much find the resources they need to flourish in a new land.”
Newcomers Access Center has already begun the move from its current small, but greatly appreciated, office at the Po-mona Presbyterian Church to the new space on the CST campus. Anne is busily thinking of ways that the new space can expand NAC’s programs. “Our mission,” she says, “is to provide resources to immigrants and refugees.”
One way to do this is through workshops on topics ranging from parenting to dealing with trauma; from doll making and ethnic cooking to how to become a US citizen.
More rooms translate into serving more clients. Several programs can happen at once such as mothers learning English in one room while their children play together in another room; teens can get tutoring at the same time that a parent is getting help filling out forms.
Montassar Laouini, CST director of facilities, physical plant, and campus housing, is excited about what the office space can make possible, “Working with Anne and her team has been a joy. Their enthusiasm for their work is contagious, and as I learned more about Newcomers Access Center, I knew there were other ways we could help. In addition to temporary housing, we were also able to offer NAC usage of additional space for meetings, counseling, English classes, etc. It’s a great partnership and important work, and I’m grateful CST had resources to help our community and to help the refugees get settled.”
Thank you, Claremont for the help so far. Theres lots more to do! To learn more, to volunteer or to donate go to www.newcomersaccesscenter.org.