Looking for something fun to do on New Years Eve?

We are so excited that Joel Makeci and family will be performing at the Public House for First Night on New Years Eve! The performance starts at 5 pm. Check out more information here and read his artist bio below! You can also buy his music online here. This is a can’t miss First Night event!



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Holiday Office Closure

Soft Landing Missoula will be closed from Wednesday December 20 through Tuesday January 2 as we celebrate this season with our families. To make a tax deductible end-of-year gift, donate online at www.softlandingmissoula.org/donate or mail your check to 939 Stephens Ave, Suite C, Missoula, MT 59801.

Thank you for your understanding. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

2017 Year in Review


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Soft Landing Missoula has made incredible strides in just one year. What started as a small group of dedicated volunteers with a vision of helping refugees resettle in Missoula has developed into a thriving organization with a community resource center and 3 employees serving more than 30 refugee families and the wider Missoula community. We have grown into a sustainable organization that provides reliable information about refugee resettlement to the community, and that our refugee families look to for learning, support and opportunities.

In October 2016, Soft Landing Missoula (SLM) opened our Community Resource Center, complete with offices, a childcare room, a classroom, a computer lab and a donation area. We staffed the office with a 30-hours-a-week Executive Director and a 20-hour-a-week Program Director. In June, we brought on an additional 20-hour-a-week staff member and increased our program director to 25 hours a week. We have offered English classes, driver’s education classes and computer classes since November 2016. Refugees come to the center every day for classes with free childcare, to use the computer lab and to pick up needed donations. They find support and community when they walk in the door.

We have recently expanded our tutoring reach, by offering one-on-one in-home classes by request.  We have partnered with the Lifelong Learning Center and the IRC to develop a class for potential tutors to gain useful skills for teaching English to adults and children.  This tutoring has ranged from basic English help to studying for tests such as driver’s licensing, engineering credentials, and the GED.  We were also able to respond to Missoula County Public Schools English tutoring needs and have assisted them by recruiting over 30 volunteers that are in the schools every day providing language tutoring support for English Language Learners.

We continue to manage in-kind donations from the community, both at the Center, and at our storage unit which we rent in partnership with the IRC and the Seventh Day Adventist Church.  These donations are used to furnish homes for incoming refugees as well as provide additional support to families that have been here a bit longer.  We host different drives throughout the year (toiletry kits, warm clothing, etc.) as well as helping groups from around the state find a way to give to refugees in Missoula. Starting in November, our Community Center also began to host an Emergency Food Pantry in partnership with The Montana Food Bank Network.

In addition to the Center and the direct services provided to our families, SLM continues our strong education and outreach program. SLM partnered with the University of Montana to present four lectures in the past year. We organized experts to speak about refugee resettlement and the history and conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, and Iraq. Each lecture was attended by 200-300 people and was positively received by the community.

SLM staff also participated in more than 20 community meetings to address concerns and dispel misunderstandings about refugees and the resettlement process. Staff spoke to church groups, classes at the University, state-wide conferences, community groups like Rotary and Kiwanis, and more. We have traveled to Kalispell, Helena, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls and Hamilton in response to invitations from groups across the state. We are even helping to organize a statewide coalition of refugee supporters.

In Spring 2017, SLM hosted 20 community members in a two-day leadership training about defusing tension and facilitating community conversations about refugees.  This training was the second  “challenging conversations” workshop that we have done and we are refining and building a curriculum that can be replicated each year or possibly more. We have partnered with Empower Montana, Imagine Nation Brewing, and the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center for these educational workshops.

SLM partnered with the IRC to recruit and train more than 100 volunteers to work on small Family Mentor Teams to assist and support each refugee family with initial orientation and integration. During the past year, the IRC has gradually taken over the duties of training and overseeing these volunteers as they have increased their own capacity through greater staffing. SLM continues to work with the Family Mentor Teams to help connect their refugee families to needed community resources as well as fun social activities.  We continue to recruit and train volunteers for SLM programing and events.

June 2017 marked SLM’s first annual World Refugee Day Cup and Community Celebration. In partnership with Missoula’s Parks and Recreation, we hosted a day-long soccer tournament, followed by a community celebration with free dinner and music. The event was attended by more than 200 people and will become an annual fundraiser for us. The day was a huge hit with both the Missoula community members and the refugee families that participated.

We also participated this year in Welcoming Week, hosting or co-hosting nine events that spanned the 9-day period!  These events included 3 “cultural” experiences: an Eritrean coffee ceremony, a play put on by the Congolese families, and a dinner at Caffe Dolce with guest chefs from Iraq and Syria.  None of these events were fundraisers for SLM; instead, donations directly benefited the participating families. These events were some of the first opportunities for Missoulians to see, hear, taste, and celebrate the new cultures that refugees have brought to our city.

Following the excitement of these events and the experience of hosting five families to sell food and coffee at the Missoula Farmer’s Market this year, we are researching the possibilities of creating a SLM “United We Eat” program. This initiative helps individuals who would like to explore an entrepreneurial path in the food industry gain skills, licenses, and experience by attending workshops, participating in events, and working closely with the Health Department and other partners, all with the guidance of a volunteer mentor from the Missoula food community.  Through the events in this program such as a monthly “Supper Club,” SLM would also continue to promote the sharing of culture, tradition and welcome through food.

Soft Landing Missoula continues to be proactive with our fundraising efforts, raising more than 100 percent of our 2017 budget as of July 2017. Through grants, individual donations and planned fundraisers, our budget allowed us to add a part-time volunteer coordinator in June.  We will continue with diligence to ensure the long term sustainability of our organization.

SLM has continued to stay in the local, national, and international media spotlight, including well-known media outlets such as the BBC, YES Magazine and the LA Times. A documentary on our work produced by Starbucks as part of their “Upstanders” series came out in early fall. With this very positive press, we are able to inspire others to do what they can to stand up for refugees and we have received many personal responses from people around the world to this effect.

As 2018 approaches, we are excited to continuing developing our events, education and outreach, and more. Our second annual soccer tournament, the World Refugee Day Cup, will coincide with the global celebration of World Refugee Day and will take place June 16, 2018. In September, we look forward to participating in Welcoming Week once again – we will surely re-invent some of our hits from last year, like the Eritrean coffee ceremony and another Congolese play, and will look forward to finding new ways to partner with our Missoula community to make this week educational and exciting. Our lecture series will continue, as well. While we don’t have a date on the calendar quite yet, we are looking ahead to February to line up our next “SLM Presents” event.

We were lucky to be invited to speak at many local and statewide community events last year, ranging from Billings to Hamilton to the Flathead. This year, SLM looks forward to taking a more proactive approach for these conversations. We will seek out opportunities to educate about the refugee resettlement process, dispel concerns, and share ways that people can make a difference at SLM and in their community.  We hope this will include a monthly “Coffee Conversations” in partnership with the International Rescue Committee to provide a space for learning more about resettlement, as well as voicing questions and concerns.

Sponsoring the individuals at the Farmer’s Market this summer was one of our most exciting accomplishments this year. Because of the amazing reception from the Missoula community, we are eager to continue our food entrepreneurial programs. We are working with the Health Department to set up workshops and food certification classes for the people who are interested in providing food via catering opportunities, wholesale production, etc. Many local partners, like Burns Street Bistro, Caffe Dolce, and Masala have come forward to express interest in working with us on this project. We will start partnering with these restaurants to host monthly “Supper Clubs” through a new program called United We Eat. While we are still working out a lot of the logistics, the Missoula community is literally hungry for events like this and we know it will be a success!

Here at SLM, we are also partnering with the Montana Food Bank Network to start a small food pantry. Similar to our clothing/kitchen donation space, people can come in to take food pantry goods whenever they need them. With the addition of this food pantry, we are able to help alleviate hunger in times of a short term increased need or crisis situation.

Finally, we will continue to be adaptive in the services we offer at our community center. We will seek feedback from the IRC, other institutions, and individuals to create/adjust English class offerings, Driver’s Education, and more. We certainly don’t have a shortage of volunteers at this point, so we are braced to develop more programming as soon as we establish the need.

 

Welcome to the new SLM board members!

We would like to extend a very special welcome to our 4 (yes 4!) new board members!  I have really enjoyed starting to get to know all of these talented and dedicated folks and look forward to 2018 with a very excited and robust board!  Here are some mini-bios as an introduction 😉 Welcome to the SLM board!

Catherine A. Brown

Catherine worked for Mercy Corps for 15 years starting in 2001 as a senior international manager in humanitarian and emergency programs, enterprise development and micro and small business development finance. She has worked in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and most recently in Portland. Prior to that, she worked for Montana Western Region Economic Development Group and helped found an environmental bank in Washington state.

Rev. Daniel Disch

Daniel is the minister at Atonement Lutheran Church in Missoula. He tutored immigrants in a Fairfax County, Virginia program and taught ESL/EFL in Seoul, South Korea for two years. He has served on two local non-profit boards: Missoula Food Bank and Emmaus Campus Ministry and has also been active in SALAM (Standing Alongside America’s Muslims).

Kelsey Stamm Jimenez

Kelsey has been involved in the field of international development for the past 10 years as a student and a professional. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador and did graduate field work in Mexico on immigration and international development. She is a program manager at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center, where she runs international exchange programs.

Katie Klietz

The great-granddaughter of Syrian/Lebanese refugees, Katie taught English to recent immigrants in Chicago, and volunteered with homeless outreach programs. She is the Missoula County Communications Coordinator, handling media relations, social media and marketing for the Missoula County Commission. Katie participated in the early planning to bring the IRC to Missoula and also serves on the Missoula Civic Television Advisory Commission.

Soft Landing Missoula Presents: Timeless Iraq

Please join us at the UC Theater November 7th at 6p for the 4th in our lecture series created to inform the Missoula community about the countries from which recent refugees have fled.

This lecture will present a fresh look at this fascinating, fraught country, by a recent refugee returning to safety.

Mushtaq Al-Rashidany earned a master’s degree in linguistics from UM in 2012, returned to Iraq, married, then sought refuge with his wife and unborn child from war and religious violence.
He will recount their journey and paint a portrait of Iraq—its history, culture, and current situation.

Free and open to the public.

Following the lecture, Soft Landing Missoula and the International Rescue Committee will give brief remarks about current resettlement efforts in Missoula and nationally, along with a 2018 outlook.
 


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SLM Board Statement on refugee resettlement in Missoula Oct 2017

It has been nine months since President Trump issued his first executive order on Jan. 27 restricting the flow of refugees to this country. After this frenetic period filled with litigation and executive actions, a somewhat clearer picture is beginning to emerge:

  • The U.S. refugee program is back in motion, albeit under tighter constraints.

  • Resettlement agencies like the IRC have taken some buckshot but in fact have been energized by the events of the past year.

  • Additional litigation after the President’s third executive order is not likely to significantly affect the refugee situation.

  • We at Soft Landing believe the future is bright.

 

Let’s break down these points one by one.

 

On Tuesday, the President restarted the USRAP, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, after what had amounted to a nine-month near-pause. During that period of tremendous uncertainty, Missoula and other communities did receive more refugees, but far fewer than would have been the case under the previous administration. Now, the refugee admissions climate is different. The President has determined a cap for refugees this fiscal year of 45,000, less than half of the previous cap, at a time of global crisis when there are more than 22 million refugees. In addition, under the latest order, screening procedures, already rigorous, have been tightened, although the effect of the new procedures remains to be seen.

 

The International Rescue Committee and the eight other official resettlement agencies in the U.S.–and many smaller agencies and groups with which they work–have had to readjust to this new climate, sometimes by laying off staff and reducing budgets, sometimes by foregoing or cutting back on programs. But this adversity, it appears to us, has brought out the fighting spirit in these amazing humanitarian organizations, sparking creativity in problem solving and firmer resolve in local and national advocacy for refugees. Episcopal Migration Ministries, for example, is hosting a series of nationwide conferences informing and energizing hundreds of folks nationwide to advocate for welcoming refugees. Here in Missoula, the IRC office has bucked the national trend by expanding its stellar staff, demonstrating not only determination but confidence in refugee resettlement in Missoula and ultimately in other parts of Montana.

 

In the President’s third executive order on Sept. 25, U.S. travel by nationals of eight countries was halted or limited. Already, two federal district courts have frozen this order temporarily, recognizing it as just another “Muslim ban” that unfairly and unconstitutionally targets primarily citizens of Muslim-majority countries. The order does not affect refugees directly, but in the bigger picture, the pushback against these orders, past and present, has helped hold ground. That is to say, without the nationwide storm over the Muslim travel bans, refugee resettlement in the U.S. would have been narrowed even further. Nonetheless, additional litigation over the third order is not likely to affect today’s refugee situation all that much. Unfortunately, some excellent lawyering and far-sighted legal opinions by the Fourth and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeal striking down earlier executive orders have been neutralized by the Supreme Court, not on their merits but because the cases had become moot. For example, the Ninth Circuit held in September that some 24,000 refugees who had been accepted for resettlement had the kind of bona-fide relationship with a U.S. entity that precluded the refugee ban from affecting them. Now that ruling has been wiped away.

 

We at Soft Landing have seen and have felt these developments in these last nine months. While recognizing that we are operating in a different climate than that which existed two years ago when we began, we are actually full of hope and optimism:

  • We rejoice in the IRC’s growth and its vote of confidence in our faith that resettlement would be successful here. And we look forward to a growing partnership with IRC as we help each other in the common cause of helping Missoulians to be “a welcoming, supportive and informed community that can assist refugees to integrate and thrive.”

  • We rejoice in the start of a statewide coalition of like-minded citizens dedicated to this same ideal and look forward to the day when other communities can begin to travel the same road we have traveled.

  • We rejoice in the national recognition of Soft Landing and executive director Mary Poole, most recently as one of eleven “Upstanders” celebrated by Starbucks in a video, part of a series that could receive as many as 100 million views. This makes Mary and Soft Landing a player in the national conversation about welcoming refugees.

  • We rejoice in the fact that 30 Missoulians answered the call to become ESL teachers for local refugees, being trained by the Missoula County Public Schools’ Lifelong Learning Center at Dickinson School. And we rejoice in the whole -hearted support of MCPS in helping refugee children in school (and underscore their need for more tutors!)

  • We rejoice in the fact that our new neighbors are beginning to flex their entrepreneurial muscles, particularly in the food business, and we will have soon some exciting announcements. Likewise, we rejoice in our new neighbors’ eagerness to showcase their own cultures, be it through film, theater, art or community talks.

  • We rejoice in the fact that for the first time here, a former refugee is taking the stage to tell the community about his own country. Mushtaq Al-Rashidany will talk about “Timeless Iraq” and his own family’s journey to safety on Tuesday, Nov. 7 (UC Theater, 6 p.m.)

  • Most of all, we rejoice in the continued support and encouragement–and involvement–by this amazing community. You are our strength and our inspiration!

Welcoming Week Starts Saturday!

After months of preparation, we are excited to finally kick off Welcoming Week this Saturday! Soft Landing Missoula is honored to join beside the International Rescue Committee, SALAM, Montana Women Vote, Montana Human Rights Network, Jeanette Rankin Peace Center, and other amazing organizations to bring you NINE events for Welcoming Week!

Check out our full events calendar here and RSVP for the events on our Facebook page!

If you can’t make it to the events or don’t live in Missoula, there are plenty of ways you can still participate! Read this blog post about different ways to get involved in Welcoming Week from home.

Take Action: Contact your Congressperson Today!

As we prepare for World Refugee Day, we are also taking action to help guarantee the future of the United States refugee resettlement program in the coming months.  Join us, as we join groups across the nation, to express our support for this historic and important program that helps families fleeing war, terror, and persecution find a safe and welcoming home in Missoula, MT and all around the United States.

Each year, the US Government determines how many refugees are allowed to enter our country. To prevent this number from decreasing, call your Congressperson today to voice your support for refugee resettlement.  

Call 1-855-472-8930 today to encourage our elected officials to increase the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the US today. There are instructions and and a suggested script for your call below.

Instructions:

1. Call 1-855-472-8930. When prompted, enter your 5-digit zip code.

2. Choose if you would like to speak with your Congressperson or Senator. You can also call back again and do both!

3. If you choose Congressperson, the recording says it is connecting to Ryan Zinke’s office; however, it actually connects to Representative Gianforte’s office.

4. Feel free to use this script to log your comment, either with a staff person or on the voicemail: “My name is [Your First and Last Name] and I am a constituent living in [Your City and State]. I support refugee resettlement and want to see more refugees resettled this year and next. I am calling to urge my Representative/Senator to express his/her support of the program to the President. Please let the President know that I support an increase in the number of refugees resettled in the U.S. and adequate funding for the resettlement program.”

Thank you for taking the time to support the future of the United States Refugee Resettlement program and help families in turmoil find a safe and welcoming home.

Beyond Us and Them: What is Possible? A day-long “un-conference”

The Jeannette Rankin Peace Center presents “Beyond Us And Them: What is Possible?” a day-long “un-conference”.

When: Saturday, June 10, 8:30 am to 5:30 pm
Where: University Congregational Church, 405 University, Ave, Missoula

At the un-conference, four lightning speakers (Dustin Monroe, Quentin Robinson, Tricia Parks and Robert Rivers) will ignite the participants with their individual passions for peacemaking. Using Open Space Meeting Technology facilitated by Kris Bayer, JRPC members, friends, and community members will be invited to nominate and host any topic related to the theme. These will become simultaneous, fluid breakout sessions in which participants share ideas, inspire each other, and engage on the most powerful topics of interest. At the close, participants are invited to an evening reception in the UCC Courtyard with snacks and music. The event is free for JRPC members and $20 for non-members; lunch, snacks, and evening reception included. More information and online registration is at jrpc.org/beyond-us-and-them.

A key foundation of our work for peace is encouraging the dialogue and connections that build understanding among the huge variety of people on this planet. Our world is changing rapidly.  It demands that we learn to cut through the mounting divisions—both within and outside the choir—that keep us separated to meet the unquestionable challenges of the emerging future together. When divisions dominate—whether politics, economics, cultures, issues, or opinions—we remain stuck in a worldview that is destined to fail. The future includes all of us, so rather than focusing on being right and winning, we must put our efforts toward understanding all perspectives and search for the deeper truths that join us together. This critical time demands all our strengths to create the kind of solutions to meet the upcoming untold challenges. These are the conversations that matter.

We ask you to join us as we search for the courage, compassion, and respect to learn these skills, build these new connections, and imagine the world that is possible. And we are looking for folks from all persuasions, with all their concerns and interests, to join us so our conversations are deep and productive.