Denver is about to receive an influx of new residents, and it will take a local battalion to help them call the Mile High City home.
In early January, as many as 100 Afghan refugees will be resettled here. The Silver Spring, Md. operation HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), which specializes in resettling Jewish and non-Jewish refugees worldwide and is one of nine resettlement organizations that works with the US government, chose Denver as one of the American cities to help with assisting these refugees.
Most of the total number of refugees nationwide are currently housed in US military bases around the country. In early December, HIAS asked Denver’s Jewish Family Service if it would help house as many as 20 families. The refugees coming to Denver are expected to arrive shortly after Jan. 5.
“It is an immense amount of work,” said Gabe Moe-Lobeda, Afghan resettlement manager at JFS. “The difference between the number of refugees coming in right now compared to the total number of refugees we accepted in 2020, is huge.”
“We are really in an extraordinary moment,” said Rebecca Kirzner, director of grassroots campaigns for HIAS. “Around 70,000 Afghan people evacuated to the US at the end of August. It’s a large number of people and it happened when the US resettlement program was crippled after four years of low refugee admissions.”
“When this large number of people had to be resettled,” Kirzner continued, “We were looking for ways to increase the number of people who could help.”
At Moe-Lobeda’s JFS office, his to-do list expands exponentially each day, as arrival of the Afghans draws near. Most pressing on Moe-Lobada’s list is to recruit volunteers to help the newcomers as they arrive at their new homes.
“We’re going to need many, many hands helping us,” said Moe-Lobeda. “We’re going to have volunteer roles to help find housing, teaching them local transportation systems, showing them what grocery stores look like.
“And then there’s the need to help them simply get acclimated to life here,” Moe-Lobada added, “helping them socialize and connect to communities locally.”
There is little doubt why HIAS chose Denver as one of the cities involved in the resettlement effort.
“The interest from the Denver community in supporting refugees is inspiring, and yet it is not surprising,” said Kirzner. “They are putting actions to their words and they are stepping up in incredible ways.”
“The interest level is sky high,” Kirzner added, emphasizing that many local synagogues have offered support in the effort. “Everybody is so motivated to do something. It’s such a compassionate and welcoming place. Now it’s a matter of organizing all that energy.”
“There is a small, but very dedicated Afghan community here,” said Moe-Lobada. “It’s really vital for these refugees coming in to have somebody from their country to connect with.”
So, there is a virtual help-wanted sign from JFS.
“We don’t necessarily need people with specific skills other than time, energy and a big heart,” said Moe-Lobada. “Anybody who is willing and able, is welcome to volunteer.”
To volunteer in JFS Denver’s resettlement program, contact Nancy Benyamin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Mark may be reached at email@example.com.