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A Rutland Welcome

Jenna Eaton, a senior at Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland, holds a stack of towels that are among those the students collected for Syrian refugees resettling in Rutland. Vermont Catholic/Cori Fugere Urban Jenna Eaton, a senior at Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland, holds a stack of towels that are among those the students collected for Syrian refugees resettling in Rutland.
Rutland is no stranger to immigrants.
They have come from Italy, Ireland, Greece, Poland, Canada.
And a new group of immigrants – 100 Syrian refugees – is expected.
Mayor Christopher Louras’ crafted a plan to resettle 100 Syrian refugees who fled the Islamic State and were living in sprawling refugee camps in Jordan.
The plan did meet criticism, and some residents expressed concerns about housing and jobs, the health of the new residents, an uptick in crime, the provision of services like health care, a lack of shared Christian values, and even possible terrorists hiding among the group.
But the U.S. State Department approved Rutland as a new refugee resettlement site. “We were vetted and found to be a community that will welcome and can help them with their new beginning,” said Hunter Berryhill, a volunteer with Rutland Welcomes, a volunteer network of several hundred people that works with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.
Volunteers will work in areas like helping new residents set up their homes, tutoring them in English, providing transportation and offering friendship.
Though some residents were concerned the new residents would be a burden to the community, Berryhill said, Rutland Welcomes volunteers researched situations in other communities where refugees were resettled and found them to be contributors to the economy and culture of their new towns.
Refugees, he added, are “meticulously vetted” by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the CIA. “No one can come here without very, very stringent vetting.”
Yet some residents don’t want to get involved with the Syrian refugees. Others, however, see it as an opportunity to live their Catholic faith.
“This is an opportunity for us as Christian, as Catholics, to be accepting,” said Cheryl Hooker, a parishioner of St. Peter Church in Rutland and a volunteer with Rutland Welcomes. “It’s the right thing to do. There but for the grace of God go any one of us.”
Students at Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland are working with Rutland Welcomes, collecting 80 new bath towels and filling baskets with toiletries for teens.
“When they were asked [to help prepare for the arrival of the refugees from Syria] they really got on board,” said Principal Sarah Fortier. “We’re called to help those in need. These people are coming from a war-torn country, and they need our help. Period.”
Senior Jenna Eaton, one of the students working with Rutland Welcomes, said if she were in the refugees’ situation she would want people to help her: “It’s the least we can do to help people who are starting over and don’t really have anything.”
Helping others, she added, “is what being a human person entails and what our Catholic faith tells us.”
Dave Coppock, a Rutland Welcomes volunteer, said he felt helpless when he saw news coverage of the Syrian refugees’ plight, but assisting those who come to Rutland is a way he can help change their lives for the better. He is remodeling an apartment in Rutland with the intention of offering it to a refugee family for a price they can afford.
George Hooker of St. Peter Parish sees the new residents as adding to the fabric of life in Rutland, making it a “richer tapestry.”
And at a time when Rutlanders still remember their city being touted in the media for its opioid problem, it’s refreshing for many now to be recognized for their welcoming spirit. “Now we’re the little town that is going to open its doors,” Berryhill said. “Now we are moving forward as a community [for this resettlement] to be a success. Nobody wants this to fail.”
And in the end, he hopes those Syrian refugees who resettle in Rutland live lives of dignity, peace, safety and happiness.
Vermont Catholic Magazine © 2016 Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington