New beginnings can start any time of year

by Anne Thorward | Special to the Courier

As we welcome winter’s solstice and the darkest days, new beginnings arrive in anticipation of the coming longer, brighter days.

Every religious tradition celebrates new beginnings differently. Many are guided by the calendar. Others by lunar phases. Whatever the tradition, when we think of new beginnings, we often make resolutions. It may imply a resolve to improve our lives by making promises to ourselves or others. A resolution to begin anew can be small or large: exercise more, talk to family and friends more often, assist an elderly neighbor, declutter, volunteer, or take inventory of our spiritual life.

Families served by Newcomers Access Center hail from many nations and faiths, all building new beginnings right here in the inland valley. When Syrian refugees arrived in Claremont seven years ago, people of faith, neighbors, friends, and local activists joined together to help, and NAC was born. A Claremont nonprofit, NAC currently serves immigrant and refugee families from 13 countries. Most families find NAC through resettlement agencies, existing clients, or social media. The mission of NAC is to provide newcomers access to the numerous resources they need.

One morning a family of five adults from Afghanistan was sitting outside NAC’s office door before the staff arrived. They had learned about us from other clients. This family, all professionals and quite successful in their own country, fled the Taliban into Iran. More than a year later they flew to Brazil then walked from Brazil through the Darien Gap to Tijuana before crossing into the U.S. As asylum seekers, they can only get work permits after being in the United States for 150 days, thus limiting their ability to establish themselves. Their needs are immense. A local church has “adopted” them, offering tremendous support in nearly all aspects of their new beginnings. NAC found a small apartment and another nonprofit paid their rent for three months, but fundraising continues for them to remain sheltered.

Most people NAC serves have experienced unimaginable pain and trauma. One, a girl in her late teens who escaped oppression in Guatemala, managed to find her way to the U.S. NAC found her a part-time job, but a second or a full-time position would help move her more quickly toward independence. She is very responsible, smart, and currently studying English online.

Another person we’ve helped, a young man, traveled alone from Afghanistan to seek asylum in the U.S. He speaks excellent English, has an IT degree, and is being housed by nearby relatives while he seeks meaningful work to begin again.

A family from Ukraine now settled here shared how their children struggled and cried often as they moved nine times, traveling through Poland, Italy, Spain, and Mexico before reaching the U.S.

The UN High Commissioner on Refugees Filippo Grandi has said that more than 100 million displaced people throughout the world are looking for shelter, food, medical care, and countless other services. Recent developments in the Middle East certainly exacerbate these needs. We cannot take care of 100 million people, but with spiritual strength and resolve from others, NAC creates new beginnings for the strangers in our midst.

Partners, friends, and donors to NAC provide financial support to assist with apartment deposits, rent subsidies, household goods, groceries, furniture, car seats, diapers, strollers, down payments for cars, driving lessons, and other essentials.

Our incredible volunteers have also stepped up to serve NAC families. Some tasks, though they may seem small, can still change lives. Driving children to school, taking a mother to a medical appointment, playing board games, reading books to kids, tutoring ESL, doing office work, serving on a committee, or the NAC board can all be the spark that leads to a new beginning.

As the darker days begin to lighten, NAC will continue to serve the families and individuals who come here. These strangers in our midst deserve our support, given freely, with dignity and kindness.

Anne Thorward is the president of Newcomers Access Center, a nonprofit that connects refugee and immigrant families with services and resources to help them become self-sufficient and integrated into society.


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