Pittsfield Refugee Resettlement Update

Greetings!

I am pleased to provide you with an update on our progress to establish Pittsfield as a refugee resettlement community and as a welcoming community. We are delighted to be writing to you as someone who has expressed an interest in volunteering or helping in some way on this monumental and awesome task.

As you know, Jewish Family Service of Western MA hopes to be the responsible resettlement and placement organization for incoming refugees in the Pittsfield area. This is assuming that our application to the State Department will be approved (we hope to hear by the end of the year!) and that the community of Pittsfield will join us as a welcoming community for New Americans.

We have had a series of important meetings with key stakeholders as a part of the planning. To date, we have met with  Dr. Jake McCandless, superintendent of schools and Katherine Yon, school committee chair, Jonathan Butler of 1Berkshire, Hilary Greene from the Berkshire Immigrant Center, Brad Gordon, Regional Housing Authority, Rabbi Josh Breindel, Rabbi David Weiner, Rev Ralph Howe, and several other area church and synagogue leaders, PACC ( Pittsfield Area Council of Congregations) Melanie Gelaznik of BerkshireWorks, various city councilors including Pete Marchetti, chair and John Krol, vice chair, Mayor Linda Tyer and Roberta McCullock-Dewes, the Department of Transitional Assistance and several potential employers. In addition, we have been working closely with State Rep.Tricia Farley-Bouvier who has been supporting us and working tirelessly for this effort.

We are also in close contact with the MA Department of Health who will coordinate the arriving refugees' medical care as they navigate the first months ahead.  We plan to continue to meet with those other community members who will provide leadership and assistance in building support on the ground.

Our next steps include forming a Welcoming Committee that will spearhead the partnership that our organization will have with the city. This coalition of concerned organizations and individuals will work with us to help create a welcoming community and will also help identify and create relationships with housing, employment opportunities and with others who would like to help out.

We also plan to hold a series of living room conversations- house "parties" to have the opportunity to sit with small groups of interested residents who want to learn more about refugee resettlement, ask questions, learn about what it means to be a welcoming community, and help brainstorm ways that we can create a strong relationship with the neighborhoods, schools and city. We hope to provide enough information in these sessions that will be helpful, beyond these meetings.  As these are scheduled information about location and hosts will be made available.

We will need a volunteer coordinator to help begin to organize the wonderful group who has come forward. The opportunities to help are numerous. Once we get government clearance, we will need to begin to secure housing and make plans to furnish and equip these new homes. This means finding storage space that can temporarily hold donated furniture (we will provide the lists of needed items to the community).

Volunteers can help to set up apartments, provide the first welcome meal and even become a Family Match volunteer which is to provide support to an arriving family in the months ahead. This is a lovely way for a neighborhood or group of friends or members of a faith-based community to be actively involved.  We will need volunteers who can help tutor children and adults- particularly in English as a second language. And- we will need volunteers to help collect donated items and sort them and help distribute them, based on size of family and what is needed for each home.

Our plan is to secure office space, likely in the downtown area on a bus line that is accessible for our New Americans. We will need a suite of offices and will be hiring a program coordinator. Once we have the assurance from the government about the countries our New Americans will be coming from, we will be focused on the languages we need to provide for. (As of now there is no information on what our new administration will do to curtail, inhibit or encourage refugee resettlement from specific countries of origin.)  It is our goal to build sustained support for refugees from within the community who will work alongside us as we resettle our new Americans. This is the ideal public-private partnership- as the refugee resettlement agency we will be responsible to assist refugees in creating and adjusting to their new lives. As the community, you will be the face of welcome, of hope and of informal guidance in the day-to-day living in Pittsfield and the world beyond in the Berkshires!

This is the opportunity for Pittsfield to represent America at its best. The work that you will engage with is being done across the country and across the world. Working to create welcoming communities for immigrants and refugees is challenging. It is also incredibly rewarding and will help shine the light on Pittsfield as a partner in helping innocent people who have had lives ravaged by terror, war and inhumane living conditions build a new life in America.

We know that this is a fundamental part of who you are and of who Pittsfield is. We are proud to be in partnership with you and to be working alongside of you.  Our vision at JFS is that Pittsfield (and all of the Berkshires) is a community where all people, regardless of background, heritage or culture will be valued and included.  We will all work together to create a climate of welcome and encouragement for those refugees that we resettle in Pittsfield.

We are grateful that you have expressed interest in learning about and assisting the effort that we are about to undertake.  Please feel to get in touch with us in the weeks ahead with ideas, names of more volunteers, housing ideas and jobs (!). Please also share this with interested friends, neighbors, co-workers and community.

Thank you for your willingness to be a part of this wonderful work. It is truly  tikkun olam - helping to repair the world, one person at a time. We promise that the personal and collective rewards are great.

We wish all of you a coming year of good health, joy and peace. As we celebrate our respective holidays let us remember those who seek a path from darkness. We hope that in this coming year, we will help to make a path towards a good life a reality for our New Americans.
With respect and warm regards,
                                       
Maxine J Stein, MSW                
President and CEO                   

Deirdre Griffin, J.D.
N ew American Program Director