Cathy and her family decided to find out what they could do to support refugees in our community because of the many conversations they were having at the dinner table about policies on refugees coming to our country. Their teenagers didn’t think that refugees should be kept out of our country or our community, but they didn’t really know how they were being supported once they were here. They wanted to find out more and wanted to show their kids that even if they can’t affect our national policy and make things better in the world, they could try to help our small corner of the world by supporting those people who have ended up here.
By being a Family Friend, they have enjoyed having a sustained relationship with a great family and a chance to build a long-lasting friendship. They have been welcomed in their home since the first day! They love seeing the kids starting to acquire language and watch the family get more and more comfortable with life in Charlottesville.
Cathy’s family signed up thinking they knew what this family might enjoy trips to the library and the best playgrounds and parks but what they quickly realized was that this family needed completely different things. They quickly learned to drop all expectations and let the family show them what they needed, as friends and neighbors. Sometimes it is tangible things like finding used car seats or a working sewing machine. Cathy has been able to use her own network of friends, coworkers, and neighbors to help them get basic necessities or make a possible connection for a job. Other times Cathy simply answer questions and helps them understand the way things work in this culture—such as explaining paperwork from school, what might they might hear or see on July 4th, or where to get a SIM card. They also have enjoyed quite a few trips to local playgrounds!
Cathy advises that you don’t need much to become a volunteer. You need a commitment to give time to this friendship, an open mind, curiosity about people who are different than you, and a willingness to get out of your comfort zone. She has had times where she has felt overwhelmed by the reality of how hard it is to be a refugee in this town, but International Neighbors has many dedicated volunteers who work together to help support families. You are not asked to be responsible for supporting a family alone.