I just changed the "wallpaper" on my phone. I now have a picture of my crazy blond curly headed son, Jack, (ok, let's face it- he was a part of the last picture on my wallpaper too) sitting next to a radiant, wide eyed and smiling 3 year old from the Congo. Wow. This is how he will grow up. This is just one of the gifts that refugees will give our community and our children- a legacy of compassion, global awareness, of a world larger than their own. A legacy of friendship with people that don't look like you, don't always sound like you or dress like you. We have been blessed these last couple weeks with 6 new friends- Jack especially as "Jack! Jack! Jack!" followed by copious amounts of giggling seems to be one of their new favorite English words. On the outings where I have been present, the family has received a kind, warm and excited welcome- in English, French and YES! even quite a bit of Swahili! The updates I receive from the 5 "Family Mentors" as they are helping to guide the family through what must be such a new and crazy time for them are honest, thorough and heartwarming. We are learning a lot about how to best help guide people in their new homes and I am sure, will always continue to learn more.
In the coming week, another Congolese family will arrive. Things are moving quickly now and even with all of our preparation, there are just some things you don't know until you get there! One thing we always knew would be a challenge at first, is helping to secure housing. Refugees, although they do come with a pretty good reference- called the United States Department of State- they don't come with a credit history. In cities where programs are more established, there are excellent relationships between refugees and landlords/property managers, due in large part to the refugees excellent track record for being good tenants. There is also the support of the resettlement agency- in this case, the IRC- a highly acclaimed international organization, that helps new families navigate renting a house for the first time. Soft Landing Missoula had previously reached out to some property managers with a very positive response, so we know there is interest and available housing. The issue we are running into right now is that many property owners/managers are requiring that someone co-sign the lease with each family. We know this isn't really a sustainable way to move forward, but move forward we must- with the faith that once our program is more established and our property owners/managers start to build relationships with the refugees and the IRC, this will become easier. So, I guess I am asking a few things....1) Does anyone have a 3 bedroom apartment/house that is available for rent (with or without a co-sign) or other size housing moving forward 2) would anyone be willing to have a more in depth conversation with the IRC about what it would look like to co-sign a lease with a family and 3) we would love to see families get right into permanent housing so there lives aren't disrupted twice, but let us know if you have a temporary housing situation available for a 7 person family. You can answer the call for any of those things by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
On the flip side- with the recent family's arrival and some of the press this and other occurrences have generated in the past few weeks, poor Molly Cottrell has been working her fingers to the bone to respond to all of the new volunteer requests! How many you say?! How about 137 new volunteer requests and new newsletter subscribers in 2 weeks! You guys are amazing! We want to say thank you- thank you for your interest and mostly, thank you for your patience! We are slowly building more and more opportunity for volunteers to participate- from heavier time commitments such as the 5 person Family Mentor teams to helping out for an hour or so at an event- we are building a strong and sustaining program and volunteers will be the heart of it.
What is that you say? Events? Yes! We have officially scheduled our first in a series of lectures that are designed to take a closer look at the regions in which the refugees we will be welcoming to Missoula are coming from. Our first talk that takes place on September 20th at the University Center Theater from 6p-8p will, of course, focus on the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a special look at the East African refugee camps for the Congolese. We have two fabulous speakers and will have a Q&A session to follow. Check out the event on facebook. It is a free event that should be very interesting! We will see you there!
Another "happening" in the next couple weeks that we should all be aware of and try to attend is the City Council meeting on September 12th at 7p in Council Chambers ( 140 W. Pine St.). Many members of Missoula's City Council were some of our very first supporters and volunteers, and on the 12th they will be voting on a resolution to initiate participation in a White House campaign titled "Building Welcoming Communities" that outwardly expresses Missoula's priority to promote compassion, kindness and opportunity for all. This will be a public meeting and it is important that we show up to support this resolution. Please join me there! You can even prepare a short (2-3 min) statement about why you support this resolution if you are feeling up to it!
If you have made it this far, I will leave you with this...
The first time I got the privilege of meeting this first family, I accompanied them to the Farmer's Market a couple weeks ago on their second full day here. As we were walking up Higgins toward the market at the XXXX's, the Mom, Nyota, was walking next to me, just looking back and forth, up and down. I heard her let out a sigh and a quiet "Missoula. Missoula". I smiled at her and tried to say "Home" in Swahili to which she repeated "Missoula, Home". We shared a quick little laugh. It was only later that I found out that she might not have been saying "Missoula" at all, but "nzuri", the Swahili word for "good". They sound surprisingly similar, and yeah, that works too ;)
P.S. And yes, you noticed it, our groovy new logo.... Thanks again Ali and Miranda! Miranda has also posted all of our previous newsletters on the website, so check them out if you missed one or are new!