Walter W. Pickut
Whether by war, natural disaster, or famine, people throughout history have too often been forced to flee death and disaster by no fault of their own.
Yet from among those so cruelly displaced have often arisen a next generation’s leaders and builders to bless the lands and nations who welcomed them in.
Jamestown, Chautauqua County, and all of Western New York are now becoming such a land of healing.
“Refugees are resilient. They traveled halfway around the world in order to start these new lives,” Karen Andolina Scott explained last week to the Gazette, “but it might take a little while for somebody to find their way.” Karen is CEO at Journey’s End Refugee Services (JERS) headquartered in Buffalo, New York.
“We have been building relationships in the Jamestown area over about the last year or more,” she added, “since about March of 2022. We have proceeded very intentionally and we’re taking our time. We want to be sure they have the best experience they can.”
Journey’s End Refugee Services, Inc. is a Christian community-based organization with the mission of welcoming refugees without regard to ethnic origin or creed and to assist them to become healthy, independent, contributing members of the community. This is accomplished by providing refugees with the resources and support they need.
Return on Investment
“Refugees arrive in the United States with a wide range of skills, abilities and professions,” according to Karen Andolina Scott. “Some were doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, nurses, and much more back home.” Those skills will deliver a great value to the communities that offer them resettlement opportunities.
There are also individuals who have not had a kind of professional life or professional experience that would translate really well into their new life here in Western New York. Yet, with time and patience they will also become productive, contributing members of the community.
On Monday, March 20, local JERS representatives presented the Jamestown Rotary with opportunities to collaborate in the effort. Beth Litton, Resettlement Manager in Jamestown, described the needs in terms of housing, household furnishings, education, and employment. When a community as a whole is welcoming and supportive, newcomers who are helped to adapt will stay in the community contributing to well being and prosperity across all sectors of community life.
Buulo Emmanuel, New York State Office of New Americans (ONA) Immigrant Community Navigator, also presented the prospects for citizenship and complete integration in the community as new Americans.
Among the most obvious barriers for refugees is the language barrier. English language acquisition is a top priority for employment. It is also critical for understanding how to gain access to certain services and systems, especially for many of the people whose families have been separated. Often it is the mother who arrives with children, with dad being left behind. JERS is aware that things are difficult for someone who does not know our language or our culture.
But, as Karen explains, at the very least local citizens can greet newcomers with a smile. Smiles and kindness are a Universal Language.
Barriers to housing and employment also begin with language skills. JERS, as a result, has developed an active program to provide translators in 45 languages. They can help with ordinary activities of daily life, document translation, and more, also helping to accelerate language acquisition.
Some Barriers Down
According to Andolina Scott, some barriers to work have been lowered or removed altogether. If a refugee enters the United States through the refugee program, once they arrive they do not need to apply for employment authorization. Part of what Journey’s End does is to help make those connections with employers who are both looking for employees and who support job training. Economic independence is a goal of the refugee program.
Overall, the program that the government operates for refugee resettlement is a 90-day case management program in which Journey’s End is required to provide certain services and support. JERS, however, also has many additional services that allow them to work with clients for much longer than 90 days.
JERS has also met with local funders, officials in the school district, employers, landlords, and social services to build capacity to serve the refugees. “Jamestown has been very patient with Journey’s End,” Andolina Scott said.
Local faith-based communities, college sororities and fraternities, employers, and interested family groups have also chipped in to help set up apartments in a program called Home Again. They set a day to go to the apartment, clean it, and set it up ready to welcome a family.
JERS also reports that a long list of companies in Jamestown are also offering significant and specific kinds of support and encouragement.
So far in Western New York, Journey’s End has resettled more than 300 individuals and families over the last three to four years. More when considering other resettlement groups and agencies with whom Journeys End collaborates, even extending to parallel agencies in Canada.
JERS invites local residents to join “Where Home Begins Again” the 5th Anniversary of the Western New York Refugee Film Festival!
The Ambassador Pass is FREE and includes registration to all films in the 2023 season.
All films are shown online on Thursdays, 7pm, Eastern Time. Please visit and bookmark www.wnyrff.org to access details of each film. Zoom log-in info will be emailed to viewers prior to each screening. Due to film licensing, films can only be screened once on the designated date and time. Questions or concerns? Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Remaining films in the season are:
- April 27 – This Rain Will Never Stop
- September 28 – Midnight Traveler
- October 26 – Strange Fish
- December 7 – Pushing the Elephant
A Personal Message
Karen Andolina Scott’s message is simply to “meet, greet, and welcome refugees with a smile. There is no one single path that individuals follow. It can take some time and it definitely takes a lot of patience for everybody. Allow newcomers the chance to make mistakes and figure things out. They’ve already been through a lot of trauma and loss. We need to offer that grace to others as well as to ourselves when we are working with newcomers.”
“There is a lot of joy in meeting with and working with people who come from all over the world. Be open to learning about other cultures and traditions, music, clothing, and food–that’s almost always one of the best parts.”
“Jamestown is a place of healing. Thank you.”