Violence, poverty, natural disasters, disease, poor healthcare—realities that refugees live with worldwide. And realities that Jeanine Webster didn’t think were right.
“To go to sleep knowing you’re in a safe space should be a human right for everybody,” she said.
That’s why Jeanine and five others created a Private Sponsor Group (PSG) through the Welcome Corps, enabling them to support refugees seeking safety in the U.S.
Calling themselves the Otsego Refugee Resettlement Coalition (ORRC), the group recently welcomed two adult refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They saw the program as a natural extension of their prior volunteer work with the Center for Refugee Resettlement in Utica, NY.
And the opportunity came at just the right time. Although the group was committed to supporting area refugees, the drive to Utica was proving too much.
“We were feeling discouraged, but right at that moment when we were at a crossroads, this program started,” Jeanine said. “The center supported us in shifting over to the Welcome Corps, and thanks to their guidance, we were really ready to go when it was time to write the application.”
“I’m very passionate about helping people who are living under persecution and not having the freedom to live or worship the way that we have the freedom in this country.”Ameen Aswad, Sponsor
Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) worked alongside the group as their Private Sponsor Organization (PSO), helping them to prepare for their refugee match.
“Working with IRIS has been really helpful because of their direct experience,” Jeanine said. “They help prepare us for things we should anticipate…and to take things step by step.”
The group also received strong support from its Oneonta community, including organizations like Catholic Charities, the Chamber of Commerce, United Way, and the mayor’s office. Ameen Aswad, a case manager at Catholic Charities and son of a Lebanese immigrant, is part of a larger coalition assisting the Welcome Corps. He saw Welcome Corps as a combination of both his skills and passions.
“I’ve seen suffering firsthand. No human being should ever have to go through that kind of suffering,” he said. “I’m very passionate about helping people who are living under persecution and not having the freedom to live or worship the way that we have the freedom in this country.”
Once ORRC secured an apartment for the newcomers, the local high school wrestling team helped to clean and furnish it. Other community members have donated essential items and supplies to make the apartment feel like a welcoming home.
Although settling into a new country presents language and cultural challenges, ORRC members sought out local resources to help the newcomers feel welcome and supported. Jeanine researched African recipes and purchased groceries from a local African market, while Ameen scheduled appointments for benefits and SNAP. The two also worked to connect with local organizations, such as the Department of Social Services and the Community Foundation of Otsego County so that they could tap into already existing programs the community offers to support local residents.
“I’m excited to learn more about them and their culture,” Jeanine said. By laying a solid foundation, establishing connections, and taking the process step-by-step, she hopes they can offer the family a sense of home.
To others considering private sponsorship, Jeanine said, “Follow your heart… one of our greatest missions should be to make sure that as many people as can on this planet just be safe and have a home.”
For more information on Otsego Refugee Resettlement Coalition (ORRC), visit their website, where they’re documenting their journey as a Private Sponsor Group.