“For I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35)
Want to help? Find a diocesan office in your state that helps resettle refugees
Volunteers can make a big difference in the lives of refugees, by welcoming them and helping them settle in to their new home. Yet refugees aren’t the only ones who benefit when we reach out to help them. Don’t be surprised if you find your own life enriched through your volunteer experience. Below are some ways you might be able to help by volunteering. Please remember that needs may vary, so always check with your local organization (such as Catholic Charities) first.
Do you like to help others learn? Helping a newcomer to our country learn English helps that person and his/her family be able to find employment, better navigate essential tasks such as going to the store or taking their children to the doctor, and in general, begin to feel more comfortable and able to participate in their new community.
Help set up their new home
Are you able to help move items or are you interested in home decor? Organizations that resettle refugees, such as Catholic Charities, often need help setting up the home or apartment for a person or family who will arrive soon. Volunteers may be needed to pick up furniture that was donated, unpack and put away dishes and linens, and in general, prepare the apartment so that it is ready and welcoming once the family arrives.
Be a friend
Refugees have to leave their homes, friends, jobs, and often even members of their family behind. They have to adjust to a new country and culture, and often a new language. If you were in that situation, wouldn’t you really want a friend? If you are able to commit for a few hours a week for several weeks, consider volunteering to be a friend to a newly arrived family. You can help them practice English, learn how to use public transportation, explore their new community (such as parks, the library, the post office, etc.) and above all, to know that someone cares about them.
Remember, there are many ways that you might be able to help, and specific volunteer opportunities will depend on the needs of your local community. Some organizations may also need people to help newly arrived refugees prepare for their first job, assist school age children with their homework, and much more.
Create a "Welcome Kit"
By definition, a refugee is someone who has “has fled his or her country of origin because of past persecution or a fear of future persecution based upon race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.” So it should come as no surprise that a refugee generally enters his or her new country with few or none of the things we take for granted, such as bedding, cleaning supplies, towels, shampoo, toothbrushes, kitchen utensils, dishes, etc.
You can help welcome a new family by putting together a “welcome” or “good neighbor” kit. Host a drive for needed items through your parish, youth group or school club, or as a family activity. Be sure to contact your local organization to find out what items they need so you can plan your drive accordingly.
Even if you don’t think you can put together an entire kit, you may be able to host or participate in a drive for frequently needed items (such as toiletries, towels, and pots and pans.)
Most organizations also accept individual donations, so next time you’re shopping for toiletries or cleaning supplies, consider picking up a few extra and donating them. “For I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Together we can live out the Gospel message and help our new neighbors feel welcome.
Care for an Unaccompanied Minor
Could God be calling you to open your home to a refugee child?
It is probably difficult for us to imagine having to leave our home suddenly, spending months or, more likely, years in a refugee camp, and then moving our family to a new country. Now imagine if you were still a child and were all by yourself.
Sometimes there are refugee children who are eligible for resettlement in the United States but who do not have a parent or relative to care for them. The Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program was developed to help these children by providing foster care services. Since 1980, close to 13,000 minors have entered this program.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is one of two lead voluntary agencies that assist the Office of Refugee Resettlement (a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families) with the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program. Refugee foster care programs are currently located in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia. If you would like more information, check out the links below.