An update from the Takoma Park Welcoming Committee for Syrian families
By Nancy Abbott Young and Fran Pollner
The first official act of the new Mayor and Council in November 2015 was the unanimous passage of RES.2015-66, “Resolution Welcoming Syrian Refugees.” The action was in large part a principled local response to the stand taken by 30 governors, including Maryland’s Gov. Larry Hogan, against allowing refugees from the war in Syria to enter their states. Takoma Park was among the first of myriad local elected bodies across our state and the entire nation to declare its intention to welcome vetted Syrian refugees fleeing the war that continues to devastate their lives and country.
The resolution passed with considerable support from Takoma Park residents, who soon thereafter formed a Syrian refugee working group (now named the Takoma Park Welcoming Committee for Syrian Families) to determine how to bring the resolution to life by learning the process by which Syrian refugees are resettled in the United States and the requirements that must be met by communities eager to open their doors to them. Councilmembers Terry Seamens, Rizzy Qureshi, and Peter Kovar have been committed participants in our group meetings and are spearheading several initiatives to make the intentions of the resolution a reality. Meanwhile members of the committee have been hard at work examining how best to accommodate Syrian families who may come to Takoma Park.
As a first step, two of our group members met with the International Rescue Committee at its Silver Spring office. The IRC is one of nine agencies designated by the U.S. State Department to receive refugees and asylum seekers into the national resettlement program. We were apprised of the exhaustive 18-24-month vetting process for Syrian refugees seeking resettlement in this country. It is expected that the families will arrive quickly after the intensive vetting process is completed, and the IRC becomes engaged.
To join the Takoma Park Welcoming Committee for Syrian Families, please contact Fran Pollner (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Nancy Abbott Young (email@example.com). To find out more about housing needs and options, please contact Terry Seamens (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Shruti Bhatnagar (email@example.com). Regarding employment opportunities, please contact Peter Kovar (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Takoma Park Welcoming Committee will work in partnership with the IRC and other organizations to provide critical support to new arrivals from Syria to be settled within the City’s borders. The goal is to secure safe housing, employment prospects and social supports and services that may be needed to help the new arrivals. The Welcoming Committee would like to prepare for at least three to six families. The committee envisions a three-part program:
Housing. The IRC will not place Syrian individuals and families in Takoma Park (or anywhere else) unless they have a home here — furnished and awaiting their arrival straight from the airport. We have found a scarcity of affordable housing in the area and long waiting lists at many of the multifamily apartment units in Takoma Park. There is also a dearth of licensed accessory apartments in private homes. The Welcoming Committee is now also exploring a “group house” option. In anticipation of the coming arrivals to our shores, the Welcoming Committee is concentrating on having housing at the ready — with an effort to alert Takoma Park home owners who may have space to accommodate individuals or families. Councilmember Seamens introduced the idea that there may be seniors or “empty nesters” in Takoma Park who might be especially interested in providing such housing for new Syrian arrivals accepted into the IRC program. More information will be forthcoming about this housing option and will be disseminated to the Takoma Park community.
Family mentoring. The committee will work with interested volunteers and local faith communities to establish a family mentoring program. Two volunteer family mentor coordinators are needed to link individual Syrian families with Takoma residents who are interested in helping them make the transition into our community by assisting them in navigating public transportation, enrolling in school, getting health care, accessing various types of training, making connections with similar families who have already made the transition, and so forth.
Job opportunities. The committee will explore employment possibilities with local businesses and seek to match the background skills of the new arrivals with the requirements of existing or anticipated job openings. In closing, the people of Takoma Park have developed a set of intentions and proposals to link the local to the global and provide sorely needed humanitarian relief that promises mutual dividends in the future.
This article appeared in the October 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.