The Northern Westchester Examiner

Grants Given to Support Afghan Refugee Resettlement Efforts

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Westchester Jewish Coalition for Immigration (WJCI) awarded eight microgrants to support efforts to resettle Afghan refugees throughout Westchester and Rockland counties, the Hudson Valley and the northwest Bronx. 

Funded by the UJA-Federation of New York and The Shapiro Foundation, WJCI created a matching microgrants program, which will support the immediate needs of refugees as they restart their lives in the United States. 

“The WJCI matching microgrants program is a substantial resource to advance refugee resettlement across and beyond the county,” WJCI President Holly Rosen Fink said. “These strategic investments have so far helped to bring a significant number of Afghan refugees to Westchester, something our team is very proud of.”

Guided by the Jewish teaching to “welcome the stranger,” WJCI works with resettlement agencies HIAS and Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) that train host group volunteers and provide case management for refugee families, the majority of whom lived on U.S. military bases after fleeing Kabul.

Neighbors for Refugees, a Larchmont-based nonprofit, acts as a consultant, providing expertise on resettlement issues. 

Local volunteers from synagogues, churches, mosques, religious coalitions and other community groups have come together to form Host Groups, which have raised enough funds to support Afghan families and individuals for one year – or until they become acclimated and self-sufficient. 

Within the groups, volunteers form committees to find and fund housing; furnish a new home and orient the family to their new neighborhood; help navigate and access federal and state benefits; enroll children in public school and tutor them in English; connect the family to medical services; hone interview skills and find employment; and provide transportation.

Host Groups that committed to sponsoring Afghan refugees were invited to apply for microgrants of up to $5,000 per family. 

“We started the Afghan Circle of the Hudson Valley from scratch to welcome, resettle and integrate Afghan refugees here,” said Harv Hilowitz, Afghan Circle co-chair. “With the help of the community and WJCI’s generous grant and guidance, we’ve been able to raise enough money to support a family until they can find work and become self-supporting.”

To date, WJCI awarded microgrants to the Jewish Community Center of Harrison (JCCH) Refugee Resettlement Committee; Congregation Sons of Israel in Briarcliff Manor; ReSET Westchester; Welcome the Stranger at The Reform Temple of Rockland and Islamic Center of Rockland; Northwest Bronx Coalition for Refugees; Afghan Circle of the Hudson Valley; Ossining for Refugees; and Scarsdale White Plains Refugee Resettlement Group.

“The Jewish Community Center of Harrison’s Refugee Resettlement Committee is so grateful to the WJCI,” said Andrea Platte, committee co-chair. “The microgrant award has helped us to be ready to welcome two Afghan families, without financial limitations being a barrier to our sponsorship.”

Last month, JCCH took part in Refugee Shabbat 2022, a HIAS initiative. An Afghan family the Refugee Resettlement Committee helped relocate shared their story during the special service. 

Since the fall of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan in August, an estimated 77,000 Afghans have been resettled in the U.S. Many were granted special immigrant visa status because they had worked for the U.S. military or American contractors.

In Westchester, new grassroots efforts and organizations have stepped up to help make refugees’ transition to living in the U.S. a little easier.

Families have recently been resettled in White Plains, Yonkers, Ossining, Briarcliff Manor, Mount Kisco and Goldens Bridge. More refugees are expected to arrive in the coming months.

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