Monsignor Michael Boland

Helping our refugees

August 9, 2017

As our nation contemplates narrowing the doors of opportunity for refugees in the United States, Catholic Charities has opened wide the doors to a new, much larger and more vibrant office space for our Refugee Resettlement Program.

When we learned that the former school at St. Thomas of Canterbury Parish in Uptown was available, we quickly seized the opportunity to move this vital program from its cramped quarters to the former St. Thomas classrooms that give us plenty of room for private staff-client interactions, volunteer meetings and community gatherings.

Located steps from the Red Line, with ample parking for staff and volunteers, and close to diverse and culturally appropriate grocery stores, medical offices and other social services, we knew this location would be the perfect place to serve the needs of our refugees.

Over the past 40 years, Catholic Charities has welcomed more than 10,000 refugees from around the world. As refugee policy changes are debated, it is important to remember that less than 1 percent of refugees are able to resettle in the United States.

Refugees accepted into the U.S. have not only been given refugee status by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, but have also undergone multiple background checks, finger printing and health screenings required by our government. The U.S. screening process is significantly more rigorous than that of most other countries. Screening can take years to complete and helps ensure that refugees entering our country have passed the highest security standards.

Once a family is cleared to enter the country, Catholic Charities partners with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who assigns families to work with agencies across the country.

Catholic Charities secures housing, provides case management, helps them find employment, registers their children in school, arranges medical appointments, teaches them basic financial planning and budgeting, provides counseling and job readiness training, enrolls them in English classes and helps them adjust to American culture. Our new office space provides plenty of room to provide these essential services, and also provides space for our volunteers, who teach them how to access shopping facilities, navigate public transportation and provide one-on-one tutoring and mentoring.

Another benefit of our new office space is the ability to co-locate the program offices with our highly successful LOOM program. LOOM is Catholic Charities’ social enterprise that gives refugee women the chance to create, market and sell their handmade products as an additional source of income.

From beautiful scarves, hats and shawls to earrings and other jewelry, each item is meticulously handcrafted, often using techniques the women bring from their home countries and teach one another. The weekly group gives them a place to practice their English skills, and helps them feel connected to others at a time when they may feel incredibly alone in a new country. For these courageous women whose lives have been turned upside down by unspeakable violence and religious and political persecution, making products with LOOM is a tremendous source of affirmation and self-esteem.

The opening of Catholic Charities’ new refugee program location has certainly been important from the standpoint of serving our clients more efficiently and effectively. But this new space is also important because it is an outward demonstration — to our refugee clients and to the community at large — that Catholic Charities is firmly committed to carrying out the church’s role of welcoming the stranger with the love and compassion that Jesus showed.

It is truly an honor to help these wonderful families who, like Lazarus, stand before our door seeking the chance for a life worthy of their God-given dignity.

To support refugees, consider purchasing some of the products created by LOOM at www.loomchicago.com, becoming a volunteer mentor for refugee families at www.volunteerbridge.com or donating to the refugee program at www.catholiccharities.net.

Topics:

  • refugees
  • catholic charities

Advertising