A refugee resettlement program in the Hudson Valley is on schedule to welcome its first families this month. Church World Service has found office space in Poughkeepsie and volunteers in the region are ready to lend a hand.
Church World Service has signed a lease for office space in the Family Partnership Center in Poughkeepsie and the welcome mat is out, with staff and volunteers at the ready. Church World Service is one of nine resettlement agencies that contracts with the federal government to resettle refugees across the country. Church World Service, as announced in November, expects 80 individuals to relocate within a 50-mile radius of Poughkeepsie through September.
Reverend Chris Antal is president of the Greater Newburgh Interfaith Council, which represents about a dozen faith communities in Orange County. The Council is a partner of the Mid-Hudson Refugee Solidarity Alliance and has established a welcome team. And Antal says the Council recently received an anonymous donation.
“I was delighted to have someone I’d never met before show up on a Sunday morning and hand me a check for $10,000 to support the ministry of outreach to the refugees,” Rev. Antal says. “Presently, my congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Rock Tavern, has been acting as the fiscal agent for our welcome team. And we are holding onto those funds until we are able to welcome a family into our community. And those funds will be disbursed as checks to pay for rent or utilities to assist the families in their transition to their new life.”
At a Church World Service meeting in Poughkeepsie in November, senior director for the organization’s Immigration and Refugee Program Sarah Krause said a priority is being placed on Congolese and Syrian refugees as well as Iraqis with special immigrant visas for the Poughkeepsie region. Antal spent time in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army as a chaplain. In fact, in February last year, his congregation helped resettle an Afghan interpreter for the U.S. Army who had served alongside Antal. The interpreter was granted refugee status together with his wife and their four children and the family settled in western New York. Antal reports that the husband is employed full-time and his wife has learned to drive. Plus the children are excelling in school. Meanwhile, Democratic Assemblyman Frank Skartados says he hopes to work with the community to help refugees.
“I’m hoping to create some sort of a working relationship, get Nubian Directions, for example, or get Habitat for Humanity working with them in cooperation so that we can perhaps take some of these buildings and refurbish them and bring them back to life and allow these people to have a true American life,” says Skartados.
His district includes both the cities of Poughkeepsie and Newburgh. Some area residents at the November meeting expressed concern about the resettlement effort. And some say resources should be spent on Hudson Valley residents. Others are concerned the initial number of refugees could skyrocket, plus took issue with being informed of the program late in the process without many answers to their questions. Antal says he has found nothing but support in the greater Newburgh area, with offers of job assistance and otherwise.
“And we want to send a clear message that extending hospitality and providing sanctuary is core to who we are as religious communities,” Rev. Antal says. “And we want these people as our neighbors in Orange County.”
City of Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison says any talk of formal opposition seems to have waned.
“I haven’t heard anything in quite some time,” Rolison says. “There was this discussion about some large petition of 2,000 names going to be dropped off at City Hall, or dropped off someplace. We never heard anything further on it so we haven’t heard much other than the occasional question, what have you heard, what’s happening, but that’s been about it.”
It remains to be seen what President-elect Donald Trump, who supports a ban on admitting refugees from countries linked to terrorism, will do.