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Syrian refugee update

With the sounds of Syrian refugee children in the background, Cheryl Hooker of St. Peter Parish in Rutland took a phone call at her home to talk about Rutland Welcomes’ refugee resettlement plans in light of news that 100 Syrian refugees may not be coming to the city after all.
Rutland City Mayor Christopher Louras has said an executive order expected from President Donald Trump would halt plans to resettle the refugees. 
The order also says that the secretaries of state and homeland security “as appropriate” shall cease the processing and admittance of refugees from Syria until the president determines otherwise.
“It’s disconcerting right now because of what is going in in Washington,” said Hooker, a volunteer with Rutland Welcomes, a volunteer network of several hundred people that has been working with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program. “Rutland may not be a resettlement area because of scaling down the number of refugees being allowed in” to the United States.
A Syrian family of five is staying with her and her husband, George, another volunteer with Rutland Welcomes. A second family is staying with another host family.
“These may be the only two families that come,” Cheryl Hooker said. “It’s really disappointing. We were looking to do the right thing and help people.”
Staff from the resettlement program is helping the two refugee families find permanent housing.
Students from Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland collected towels for the 100 Syrian refugees expected in Rutland, and a collection at St. Peter Church provided funds to purchase 30 irons for the families.
“This is an opportunity for us as Christian, as Catholics, to be accepting,” Hooker said before the first refugees arrived earlier this month. “It’s the right thing to do. There but for the grace of God go any one of us.”
  • Published in Diocesan

A Rutland Welcome

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.
  • Published in Diocesan
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