By Emilia Otte, Copy Editor
Representatives from Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church announced in a meeting sponsored by Civic Engagement that they are looking for student volunteers as the church prepares to welcome a refugee family to the Bryn Mawr area later this spring.
During the meeting, which took place on Thursday, Jan. 19, Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church Associate Pastor Rebecca Kirkpatrick and church member Judy Sherry presented their mission to about a dozen students.
The members of a newly-arrived refugee family will need assistance with a number of things as they settle into their new home. The church will be organizing its volunteers into teams, and each team will be dedicated to helping the family meet a specific need.
Some of these are simple, everyday necessities, such as food shopping, learning how to manage public transportation, acquiring clothing, and planning rides to medical appointments. Others are more complex undertakings — preparing resumes and setting up job interviews, learning how to manage their finances in the U.S., and navigating the school system and signing up for ESL classes.
The church also has a volunteer team dedicated to “friendship”; namely, visiting and talking with members of the family and inviting them to events in the community. As Kirkpatrick pointed out, being helpful often involves simply “coming and being with them.” Kirkpatrick herself lived in Cairo, Egypt for over a year, and recounted the challenges she faced in learning how to negotiate a new country, and how often she had to rely on help from others.
The church is planning to welcome a family of no more than four people (restricted because of housing accommodations), hopefully with children. So far, Sherry said, almost 90 people at the church have expressed interest.
The typical refugee families placed in the Philadelphia area are Sudanese and Congolese, although in the past the church has welcomed families from other areas of the world, such as Kosovo.
Sherry commented on the human component that drives us all to help: “When you see the news, I know your heart must break, when you see these families.” Their mission will allow volunteers to channel that humanity into what will hopefully become “a successful, systematic process” for welcoming more families down the road.
Volunteers will be needed when the family first arrives — most likely in late April or early May — as well as throughout the summer and into next fall. The first volunteer meeting will be on Thursday, April 6 at 5 p.m. at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church on Montgomery Ave.