St. John’s Circle of Care Report 9.28.17
We could write a book on all that has transpired with the St. John’s Circle of Care since one cold late April night at Bradley airport , we welcomed Albert Ndaguimana, Maombi Mujawimana and now 18 month-old Nkundimana Wilson after their epic journey from a refugee camp in Rwanda. They have become our dear friends, a daily blessing and our teachers: examples of faith, grace, resilience, hope and serenity. In conjunction with staff from the resettlement agency Catholic Charities, we have sought to provide them with logistical, material and social support and encouragement in many different ways – some quite improvised. We are all learning as we go.
Here are a few highlights:
Home sweet home: Through May and June, the family lived free of charge in a comfortable small home on Vernon Street offered up by Cindy Tolan and her partner Alison Smith, who also have a home in Brooklyn, and who have since become integral members of our Circle of Care.
Home of one’s own: On July 1, thanks to a subsidy from the Springfield branch of Catholic Charities, the officially designated resettlement agency, the family, with great joy, moved into a two bedroom apartment at Meadowbrook Apartments, right below the bike path, off Straw Avenue near Florence Center. The apartment was furnished from contributions of furniture and household items made from St. John’s and also from other churches and circles of care. They have paid no rent to date. On Oct. 1 they will owe $130, and the amount will increase gradually over time. The market rent for their apartment is $900, which is way above their means. Housing costs in Northampton are a huge issue for all the five refugee families who have located here so far and are the focus of fund-raising efforts by Welcome Home Northampton and Catholic Charities.
Making one’s way: Albert and Maombi and Wilson attend the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Florence. They first joined this denomination in eastern Congo where Seventh Day Adventists are active doing mission work including education and medical outreach. They arrived here with papers of registration which they duly presented to the Florence church elders. The Adventists in Florence are a vibrant congregation mostly African American. Members of that church have launched a vegan restaurant in Hadley called Pulse Café (where the bison farm used to be) and Albert is working there full-time as dishwasher. The family receives food stamps, a WIC benefit, and a small cash benefit from the state through the Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. (TAFDC). They received English language instruction every morning from volunteer tutors until just this week, when they transitioned to classes at the Center for New Americans on Gothic Street. They also have attended free English sessions at the International Language Institute (ILI) of which our Carolyn Gear is executive director. Maombi, who is pregnant and due to deliver a baby boy in January, is an expert and artistic seamstress and is taking in orders for dress-making and has been contracted to make water bottle carriers from used denim for a new non-profit, eco-friendly and socially responsible enterprise in Northampton. Btw, one of the elders of the Seventh Day Adventist church has joined the Men’s Bible Study at St. John’s which has been forever changed by his presence.
It takes a village: Three quarters of the more than two dozen members and affiliates and participants in the St. John’s Circle of Care are not members of the parish. Members who belong to the parish have reached out to friends and colleagues – and also to other circles of care in the Welcome Home Northampton network — and the result is a diverse and eclectic group. Two of the co-leaders, Kate Cardoso and Jan Nettler, are not members. Jan is a stalwart at the Unitarian Society and a leader in their circle of care which has yet to be assigned a family.
Volunteers , working closely with the Welcome Home Northampt0n volunteer coordinator Keegan Pyle, caseworker Jowel Iranzi and other Catholic charities staff, have provided transportation, child care, home visits, shopping assistance, assistance in establishing a community garden plot, share to a CSA farm, budgeting assistance, interpretation and translation services, a bicycle and training on a bicycle, contacts and connections to services in the community ranging from the Northampton Community Center to day care options and the Northampton Parent Center, and much more. Hundreds upon hundreds of hours – and not a little material aid – have been donated.
Refugee Relief Fund: St. John’s has established a refugee relief fund for our family to help short term with costs for phone service, translation services, some paid babysitting assistance, bus passes etc. Believe it or not, our family has an outstanding debt to the US State Department for $2,316, the cost of their air fare from a refugee camp in Rwanda to Bradley International Airport . The first bill of $73 arrived just recently. In our view, and in the view of most of the circle leaders under the Welcome Home Northampton umbrella, this is an unconscionable obligation to be placed on families at the very start of their difficult journey to self- sufficiency. Long term there will be need for ongoing housing subsidy. So far more than $4,000 has been donated to the fund and the balance as we speak is about $2,500. Continued contributions to the St. John’s Refugee Relief Fund are encouraged and will make a huge difference to the family. Checks can be made out to St. John’s and tagged “refugee relief.” Catholic Charities also is fundraising primarily for housing subsidies for the half dozen families who have come to Northampton so far under the aegis of Welcome Home Northampton.
“Mana” means God: You might have wondered about the family’s complicated names. We learned that “mana” means God. Mujawimana means “let God lead.” Ndaguimana means “servant of God.” Nkunidama means “love God.” Maombi means prayer. Amen.