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In January of 2016, the Board of Directors at Temple Bnai Israel approved support for the Quiet Corner Refugee Resettlement (QCRR) Co-sponsorship Program  that is being organized by Reverend Ann Plumley, Steve Lane and the First Church of Christ of Mansfield.

Program Update, February, 2017

As you many of you already know, QCRR has not been assigned another refugee family to resettle. We were anxiously waiting to hear about the arrival of a new large family when the Executive Order banning refugees was enacted. Although the government travel ban has been reversed, the flow of refugees into the country slowed down significantly, and will most likely slow down even more as the vetting process has been stopped for refugees.

We are hoping that this situation will change soon but it is very uncertain.  In the meantime, QCRR had already secured a house to rent that would accommodate a large refugee family and with the help of many of you the house had been prepared for use.  The house remains available for a family as of now but it is unclear how long QCRR will hold onto the house.  Much of this is still to be determined.  You can be sure that all of the wonderful items you donated will be saved for a family when they do arrive.

Program Update, December, 2016

The QCRR (Quiet Corner Refugee Resettlement) program is looking to resettle another refugee family within the next month or so, once appropriate housing is found.   The QCRR core committee has spent time reviewing and rehashing and everyone feels energized to welcome another family.  We have learned many lessons already.  The first family has been in the Quiet Corner for almost six months.  The children are settled at school, parents have jobs, and English is being learned.  I remain overwhelmed regarding how a family from Homs, Syria, can spend 2 years in a refugee camp in Jordan and then settle in NE Connecticut after an extensive vetting process.

The QRCC volunteers meet monthly on the first Wednesday of each month at 6:30 pm.  Attendance is welcome and optional.  More ESL teachers/helpers are NEEDED.  One does not have to have any prior experience to participate.  Time commitment is flexible.  In addition, a case manager is needed for the next family that arrives.  This is a much more labor intensive commitment.  Please let me know if you have any interest with helping or, if you are already a registered volunteer, please let Charlotte (volunteer coordinator) know that you would like to help!

Program Update October, 2016

Some exciting news is that QCRR co-leaders Steve Lane and Ann Plumley were interviewed on WILI Radio (1400 AM or 98.3 FM),  They discussed our organization’s accomplishments and aims and promoted the upcoming Take Note Concert – click (HERE FOR DETAILS), a benefit concert at the Woodstock Congregational Church on Sun., Nov. 6 at 3:00 p.m.

Another musical benefit, by The Jim Blair Band, click (HERE FOR DETAILS) will take place at the Ebenezer Lutheran Church at 96 Oak St., Willimantic on Friday, Nov. 4 from 7-9 p.m. Doors open at 6:30.  Come enjoy the beautiful music of acoustic guitarists Jim Blair and Derek Sulliman.  There is no charge, but freewill donations will be accepted for the QCRR and the Windham No-Freeze Hospitality Center.   Please see the attached flyer for this event (and for the Take Note! concert, in a separate e-mail) and post them at will, with our thanks.  We’d also greatly appreciate your announcing these events in your places of worship, club meetings, etc.  The more who attend, the closer we’ll be to meeting our year-end fundraising goal of $20,000.

We are currently looking for employment; kudos to Jen Stone and Steve Lane for leading our employment efforts. Information about jobs requiring little English on or within short walking distance of the WRTD bus route is welcome.  Please contact Jen Stone at jstone77@charter.net or Steve Lane at jmenard2241@sbcglobal.net.

Finally, we’ll hold our second monthly volunteer meeting, providing an update-on-the-family, on Wed., Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the First Church of Christ, Mansfield at Routes 195 and 89.  All are welcome to attend the hour-long meeting.

Thanks again for all your help, prayers, good wishes, and support.  The family is succeeding because of you.

In hope and peace,

Jen Beck, QCRR

Program Update, August, 2016

On July 21, we welcomed our Syrian family:  Marwan, the father; Fatem, the mother; Farrah, the 8 year old daughter, and Abd al-Halim, the 9 year old son.  They seemed understandably dazed after the 40 hours of travel, and also perhaps also because of being used to what they report as poor treatment in Jordan. Traveling to their new residence in Mansfield, they stiffened upon approaching a night construction site with lights blazing, but Ann assured them through the translator that it was not a checkpoint.  Expecting to have nothing when they arrived, they were very surprised to find a fully furnished house–glad, but again, rather dazed in the context.  Volunteer Fatima Salman cooked them a culturally appropriate meal, for which they were thankful. The children, used to very close quarters were, and are, sleeping in their parents’ room, as even their small house seems very large to them.  On their first full day, a local imam from the Willimantic Islamic Center (Islamic Community of Willimantic) visited to express welcome.

Hailing from the formerly bustling but now totally devastated city of Homs, Syria, (see flyover video of the area at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoRdCbDd50o) they have found the transition to Mansfield’s rural setting a bit of a challenge.  They marvel at our town’s remoteness and the presence of tall trees everywhere.  They were also alarmed by the tree branch that fell in the yard and by the strange animals running around (squirrels).  However, they happily note all the impressive differences in public buildings, order, and technology. They’ve met a number of Arabic speaking people from the area, and genuinely believe that they are blessed to be in this part of Connecticut. Marwan takes photos of everything, and through a free international call app regularly updates his mother and brother on the wonders of his family’s new life.

Some good news is they all completed their refugee health screening process, and they each received Social Security cards and Husky Insurance and Connect Benefit cards.   Case manager Ann Kouatly, working tirelessly since July, noted that they had a good experience being assisted by a kind Dept. of Social Services representative, who proved helpful and patient even when Abd al-Halim accidentally unplugged the phone she was speaking on. The adults have had their first interview with the IRIS employment adviser to assess their skills; shortly we will start the processes to teach employment skills towards the goal of financial stability within 6 months of arrival.

To obtain clothing, they enthusiastically shopped at WAIM in Willimantic. Visiting the Big Y for groceries was a bit more intimidating, but they were comforted to find the familiar sight of an eggplant.  They were concerned about the prices, knowing that they will be working toward independence. Once we help them get into a more routine schedule, volunteers will be taking them to lower cost shopping, including to the Willimantic Farmers’ Market, which gives double the value of produce for SNAP recipients.  Volunteer Bev Brazeal has been taking the family to the Woodstock CSA to shop for fresh produce, which they greatly enjoy.

As for their English education, Sarah Renn is working hard to coordinate ESL training.  Many ESL coaches teach the family; two are focused on enhancing Marwan’s learning by incorporating the rules of the road in English, a particular draw for this former taxi driver. Fatem, Farrah, and Abd al-Halim are also learning English both with the tutors and with CDs at home.  Marie McCain has even used the children’s donated Elmo doll that sings the “Hokey Pokey” to spark their learning names of body parts.   As an example of the magnitude of their task, one need only see 9 yr old Abd al-Halim struggling not only to learn the new English letters, but to write them left to right, a direction which seems completely backwards to him. They all have a lot to learn, and are focused and diligent in their studies. Their parents are especially glad and grateful; recently, Marwan said, “Thank you – we are so happy our children can be children here.” While at the Mansfield Library for ESL training, Farrah even managed wordlessly to help a younger child learn an educational computer game. Those who attended a recent concert fundraiser at Storrs Congregational were delighted to see the children eagerly greeting attendees with “hi” and “hello,” and introducing themselves, saying “thank you” when given something, and handing out cups to guests, proudly pronouncing “water.”  Their dancing with other children (and their host Pam Robertson) was also a joy to see.

The school year approaches for the children, and our contacts at their new elementary school have been very helpful.  Ann Kouatly, formerly a teacher,  reports that they are very lucky to be in the Mansfield school system because of the resources available.  There, they will enter the grades appropriate for their ages rather than for skill level and will receive support in learning English, and there will be other children in their classes who are early English learners.

Right now, all their needs are met for daily life in a modest home.  The focus at this point is for the children is to be enrolled in school and prepared as best as possible, and they already have backpacks and supplies.  As the children go to school, they will need ESL support with homework, and there are plenty of volunteers for that right now. With the children in school,  the focus for the parents shifts to more intensive ESL training and employment readiness.   Marwan has said that he’d eventually like to investigate entrepreneurial possibilities, and Fatem wants to continue her previously successful career in hairstyling.  ESL training will soon become more formalized, with the parents attending classes with others whom they can be encouraged by and encourage in return..

We will continue to urge the family to make ties with others in the local Muslim community. Their mid July arrival has meant that they have been transitioning while many local Arabic community members are away, but as fall approaches, they’ll  return home and to local universities, including to the Islamic Center of the University of CT, which resumes its schedule of services and programming with the academic year. The Muslim Student Association at UCONN has also been invited to help with translation and other tasks.

As the family has been learning, so have the QCRR core team volunteers. The guidelines, tools and coaching from IRIS has been invaluable, even as IRIS itself is stressed to handle a record number of arriving refugee families. Three QCRR core team members travelled to Waterford on the 18th to meet with leaders of another resettlement group for a very productive sharing of best practices.  The same day, others met and felt heard and encouraged by U.S. House of Representatives member Joe Courtney as they advocated for the support of refugee services and the continued welcome in CT for refugees, hopefully in higher numbers.  Core group members also report being surprised in this new venture to find hitherto unknown local resources for families like our new neighbors.  We begin to see our Quiet Corner through their eyes and to learn how to meet needs we have not experienced ourselves, thus stretching our creativity and more deeply sympathizing with what it truly means to transition to a new culture and language in a strange place.

Our fundraising efforts also continue.  Please send your tax-deductible donations to WAIM, PO Box 221, Willimantic CT 06226 with “QCRR” on the memo line.  Though we are doing well, we must keep working to assure the long-term success of our project.  To that end, the a capella group Take Note! will give a concert to benefit our organization on November 6 at 3 pm at the First Congregational Church of Woodstock. Freewill donations are encouraged, and a reception will follow.  Please mark your calendars; more information will be on the way.

We’d like to note that there is an acute and persistent need for translators.  The Fresh Start group in Waterford has 10; we basically have one. If you or someone you know speaks Arabic, please enroll here: http://bit.ly/QCRRVolunteerForm .

Again, many, many thanks to our amazing volunteers who have selflessly persisted and given to support and provide for this beautiful family; we cannot thank you enough!

In peace and hope, Jen Beck of QCRR

Program update, July, 2016

A family has arrived!  An update from Pastor Ann Plumley of the First Church of Christ, Mansfield

We did it – together. With sweat, imagination, flexibility and persistence, the little red house was fully prepared and thoughtfully furnished to greet our family.  They arrived safe and sound. And bewildered. And exhausted. And anxious. And curious. And grateful.  The Core Team is taking cues from them; we are absorbing advice from IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services). We are connecting this family with people in the community who have language skills and refugee / emigration experiences that are relevant. We are scrambling to address some unforeseen needs – and all these early support services are having an important impact easing the family into a new world and a new phase of their lives.

Many of you are chomping at the bit to read the children a story, take them to the Dairy Bar, share a cooking lesson. Maybe even teach them that squirrels are nothing to be afraid of.

Actually, a lot of lessons and experiences must wait until the family indicates their needs and readiness. When the time is right, our Volunteer Managers, or perhaps in some cases our Co-Case Coordinators will tap volunteers for ESL lessons, community tours, transporting a family member to an appointment, and for a myriad of other services large and tiny. That time will come, but except in very narrow and specific ways, we’re not there yet. Please DO NOT go to the house or connect with the family in any way unless specifically invited by Ann Kouatly, Sondra Stave, Steve Lane or Ann Plumley. As with the family’s gradual evolution into a new phase of life, we QCRRers will ease into new phases of helping this family.

In the meantime, you can do several things: 

– Support our upcoming fundraiser:  http://www.storrscongchurch.org/2016/07/13/august-carillon-festival-benefit-three-area-organizations/

-Think peaceful thoughts and good wishes and prayers on behalf of this family and all families who are settling into new homes; pray in your preferred ways for those remaining in dire circumstances;

– Enjoy this glorious mid-summer season with new eyes and gratitude for abundant blessings so apparent everywhere we look.

One of the lessons our new neighbors will learn in time is the strength of our freedom to express opinions.

PROGRAM UPDATE – Mid-July, 2016

Wonderful and long-awaited news:   we will soon be  welcoming a refugee family–one of 5 Syrian families arriving in Connecticut.  Both parents, and two children, a girl age 8, and a boy age 9 will be arriving. The father is a former taxi driver with diabetes, and the mother was a hairdresser for 14 years. Both parents have had some secondary school, are literate in Arabic, and speak little or no English.

Stay tuned for updates! For now, the most important way you can help is to register as a volunteer at  http://bit.ly/QCRRVolunteerForm and then complete the background check application Praesidium will send afterward entitled “Praesidium Request for Background Check Information.”  It will ask you to click a link to “complete your personal information and consent for background screening.” Only the Rev. Joe Blotz, pastor at First Church of Christ in Mansfield Center, UCC will read them, and he will answer any questions you may have regarding registration if you contact him at joseph.blotz@firstchurchmansfield.org

If you will have contact with the family through your volunteer work, attend one of the two identical mandatory training sessions* at the First Church of Christ, UCC, at 549 Storrs Rd. in Mansfield Center.:  Session I – Thursday July 14th, 4-6 PM, Session II – Sunday July 17th, 12:30 – 2:30 PM  Bring a photo ID of yourself and a smile for your new ID badge.  In most cases, the IDs will be ready before you leave the training.  You must wear your QCRR photo ID whenever you are with a refugee family member. Light refreshments will be served. For Questions and to RSVP, contact: Diane Sprague – dispraguew@gmail.com,  Marie McCain – mariemccain1@yahoo.com

Program update – Early July, 2016

Steve Lane and Ann Plumley, co-leaders of the Quiet Corner Refugee Resettlement program gave IRIS the “green light” to settle a refugee family with us!

Advances in several key areas helped us achieve readiness:

  • We found a small, but very suitable house in Mansfield near an elementary school and other amenities, and within walking distance to the Willi-Storrs bus line. Our partners at IRIS understand the difficulty procuring housing in this area, and they are okay with our early commitment to this landlord and our to-be-named-later refugee family. They will match us with a family that “fits” the parameters of the house.
  • We have 68 registered volunteers! Thank you so much for completing the on-line volunteer registration form; see the link below if you’ve not done this yet.
  • The first two required volunteer orientations sessions have been scheduled; RSVP now! See information below.

Many of you have contributed significantly to the various preparation steps that have brought us to this place; all of you have supported us with hopes and prayers and good energy – we are so excited and so very grateful.

Now what? We wait for IRIS to call us when they believe they have found us a suitable family. According to IRIS, the pace of refugee approvals is picking up.  Still, there is no way to tell exactly how long it will take for us to be offered a family for resettlement. We will have a short time (24-48 hours) to confirm that we’ll accept a particular family, and then we enter a 10-14 day “sprint” phase where we make final preparations to welcome our family.

During the sprint phase we’ll get really specific about many things like:

  • Language(s) / translation support needed for our family;
  • Drivers to New Haven to support family participation in IRIS’ required orientation program, and to complete required medical appointments for all family members;
  • Finishing touches to the family’s home and preparation of the warm welcome we wish to provide.
  • We expect to have most of the necessary household furnishings accumulated at WAIM (Windham Area Interfaith Ministry in Willimantic). Furnishings stored at WAIM will need to be moved into the house and set up.
  • The missing items will be solicited from this group. Some items need to be purchased new. A variety of shoppers and fetchers will be needed.
  • We will send “first dibs” email lists of missing items special needs as these needs become known. Some will be tasks an individual could easily accomplish by themselves. Others will be more like projects, suitable for a faith community or group to tackle. Get ready now by identifying one person from your group to be on point to respond quickly on behalf of your group.
If you haven’t yet registered as a volunteer, there’s still plenty of time.  
Go to: http://bit.ly/QCRRVolunteerForm

Thank you to all who have already submitted on-line volunteer registration forms – we’re well on our way to knowing that we have sufficient volunteers with interests and skills in the essential areas needed to resettle refugee families in the Quiet Corner.

Current volunteers, please complete the background check form: It’s “best practice” in volunteer organizations to require a criminal and driving record background check on people who will have contact with the folks being served. Our Volunteer Registration Form will ask you if you agree to this check. In short order you will receive an email entitled “Praesidium Request For Background Check Information” asking you to click a link to “complete your personal information and consent for background screening.” This email is safe – it’s from the background check service being used by the Quiet Corner Refugee Resettlement group.  It reads, “Our client requires completed background screening as a prerequisite for serving with this organization. The background check screens for criminal convictions related to sexual abuse and violence, and driving records like DUIs.” Background check reports will be received by Rev. Joseph Blotz, pastor at First Church of Christ in Mansfield Center, UCC. Joe will read them–no one else. If he has questions, he will contact the person directly to discuss the results. Joe will inform Ann Plumley, a Core Team Co-Leader when a volunteer’s report has been received and reviewed; the volunteer will then be eligible for roles that entail direct contact with the family we are working to resettle. Please follow the instructions from Praesidium to complete your background check as soon as possible so that we might authorize you for volunteering and issue you a volunteer ID badge.

Blessings, and thank you for participating in this holy work. Temple Bnai Israel, Rabbi Jeremy Schwartz, and the Tikkun Olam Committee, Chair Anne Willenborg, on behalf of Steve Lane and Ann Plumley, co-leaders of QCRR

Click   (HERE)   for a downloadable program brochure.
Donations for the Program are welcome and being accepted at this time. 

Donations go to WAIM (Windham Area Interfaith Ministries), PO Box 221, Willimantic, CT 06226. Put QCRR in the memo line, and they will issue statements for your tax-deductible donations. Please be aware that this is not a donation to WAIM, the individuals at WAIM have been gracious enough to volunteer to manage the financials for the resettlement program (along with providing furniture and clothing for the families and much more).  It is estimated that about five thousand dollars needs to be raised for each refugee family.  This money will be used to help with a security deposit for housing, purchasing mattresses, pillows and car seats, providing groceries when refugees first arrive and reimbursing volunteers for gas money etc.

Program Background

Integrated Refugee & Immigration Services (IRIS) is a program of the Episcopal Church dedicated to resettling refugees in Connecticut.  The mission of IRIS is “to enable refugees and other displaced people to establish new lives, regain hope, and contribute to the vitality of Connecticut’s communities. Refugees are men, women and children who fled their countries of origin due to persecution on the basis of their race, nationality, religious belief, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.”

The United States has the most rigorous screening process for refugee resettlement in the world. In 2016 the US will take in 85,000 refugees up from 70,000 in 2015.  As other States have decided to decrease the number of refugees entering their states, IRIS is committed to helping a larger number of refugees enter Connecticut.  Up until now, about 250 refugees have come to Connecticut each year.  The hope is that this number can increase to 500 refugees in 2016.  IRIS has an organized system for refugee resettlement.  This involves a very large commitment including but not limited to ensuring refugees have housing and furniture, clothing, health care, education, language support, job opportunities and food security.  IRIS limits the resettlement process to 4-6 months and greatly discourages producing financial dependence.  A prime directive is self-sufficiency.

Since there will be a larger influx of refugees in Connecticut, and IRIS has received an overwhelming number of requests from people who want to help with refugees, IRIS has put together a co-sponsorship program.  Communities can gather together resources and then apply to co-sponsor a refugee family (or families).  These co-sponsors will be trained by IRIS and go through a rigorous training process.  Temple Bnai Israel has committed to a be member group,  joining many other individuals and groups organized by the First Church of Christ involved in co-sponsorship.

Our work has already begun to a small degree as some of us have been asked to help secure health care, jobs, and gather support for the program.  Once co-sponsorship is approved, the group can receive notification that a family may arrive within 24 hours.