March 9, 2017
By Vicki Cessna
“I think it’s just what we’re called to do as Christians.”That’s how St. Catherine of Siena parishioner Margie Stinson explains how she first became involved with helping a Syrian refugee family. She, along with other Catholics within the Diocese, have formed volunteer groups to assist with a variety of needs from driving to tutoring English. Stinson now helps manage an overall schedule of volunteers.
Elsie Romano issued a similar invitation last fall to her friends and fellow St. Thomas More parishioners. Recently she helped organize an informational meeting bringing together representatives from Bethany Christian Services, Samaritas and current volunteers — all who are assisting in some way the close to 30 refugee families that have resettled in the Kalamazoo area.
Romano spoke warmly about her experience with a refugee family of seven members and the call to provide friendship. She told of inviting the family over for dinner to her home and was surprised when they showed up with five different entrees to share.
“They were insistent on sharing,” she recalled and remarked that the experience was symbolic of the volunteer experience. “We think we’re giving but really we are the ones receiving.”
Josh Fitzgibbons, a young father who also volunteers, underscores the blessings of watching his own one-year-old become friends with the refugee family two-year-old.
“They’ve become buddies,” he said. His volunteerism has run the gamut from providing rides to friendship to consulting on where to buy the right electronic cord for a DVD player.
“You don’t have to do anything heroic,” he adds. “It can just can be something very simple.”
Refugee families resettling in the area through local agencies such as Bethany Christian Services and Samaritas come to the area oftentimes without any money, possessions and without speaking any English. Having a network and community helps them in their transition.
Volunteers may offer rides to doctor’s appointments or the grocery store or to one of the many churches or host places offering English as a Second Language (ESL) tutoring. Also ESL tutors are needed and training is provided. More information
Bethany Christian Services: