Afghan Family Welcoming Alliance for Refugee Ministry Ascentria Care Alliance
WORCESTER – A basket of fresh flowers mingles with the smell of disinfectants in a two-bedroom apartment in Vernon Hill on Tuesday.
The apartment, which will soon become the home of an Afghan family of five, was furnished by local volunteers and members of the Welcoming Alliance for Refugee Ministry (WARM).
The family, made up of two parents, 9 and 7-year-old daughters and a 2-year-old son, arrived in Massachusetts about a week ago and will likely move into the home later on Tuesday or Wednesday. They are resettled through the Boston-based Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center.
Friends from Northborough and Worcester, Megan Byron and Kelly Hurd, heard about the situation and decided to sign up and help. They arrived home at 10 a.m. each armed with a bucket of cleaning supplies, getting it ready for the furniture truck donated by Fresh Start, a furniture bank in Hudson.
Soon dining chairs, unassembled bed frames, toys, an ottoman, cooking utensils, and other items piled up around the house as the group of 10 debated the best ways to cook it. make it comfortable and welcoming to the family. There was a lot to consider – would parents prefer to have the toddler bed in their room or with the daughters? Who would show them how to use the confusing locks on the windows? Would they use the recliner or would they just sit on the mat?
The owner of the building is Tuan Hoang, 47, a Vietnamese immigrant who has lived in Worcester since 1995. Hoang, a chemist, decided to offer the house empty when he heard about refugees coming to the city.
“People have to help each other and do our best,” Hoang said, adding that he was looking forward to meeting the family when they arrived, probably on Wednesday.
Housing has been a major obstacle as resettlement agencies and aid organizations work together to bring around 300 Afghan refugees to central Massachusetts.
A Worcester resident, who has offered two rooms in his house to use as transitional housing for Afghan families before they are housed in long-term residences, urges others to help through housing and financial donations.
“Everyone is equal and family members are all alike – everyone is wondering how to care for their children, get them into good schools and make sure they have better lives than theirs.” said the Worcester resident, who preferred to remain anonymous.
The situation inspired many people across central Massachusetts to help. A community-led effort called “Neighborhood Support Teams”, which encourages local participation, was recently launched in association with the resettlement agency Ascentria Care Alliance.
As she unloaded a basket of masalas, rice, nuts and other food, WARM executive director Jennifer Frye said their agency had a list of 60 people who offered to help set up apartments. But they want to go beyond.
“The layout of the apartment is just the very first step. What they really need is for people to go with them and support them, befriend them,” Frye said, adding that WARM prepare teams that will do just that.
Meanwhile, the motley team of volunteers worry about the little things they can do to make refugees feel safe and welcome after their traumatic experiences. Children’s books, a white and gold tea set, and warm beds await the new Worcester family.