RIDGEFIELD, Conn. -- A group in Ridgefield is soliciting support to resettle a refugee family in the region and is encouraging residents to attend an upcoming informational session.
The Refugee Resettlement Committee Ridgefield is working in partnership with the International Refugee and Immigrant Services organization (IRIS) to create the framework for their community co-sponsorship model.
The Ridgefield organization has more than 30 people working on its committee, and will host informational meetings on Tuesday, Aug. 9, at 7 p.m. at the Ridgefield Library. A second informational meeting will be held at the library on Thursday, Sept. 15, at 10 a.m.
The Ridgefield group is following a model that was developed several years ago when IRIS worked with a group in Wilton on a family resettlement. The model is now being used in a number of communities in Connecticut.
“People have come to the effort out of concern for the massive refugee problem in the world today and the chance to make a small positive effect on the problem by helping one family restart their lives in the United States,” said Mike Rettger, who co-chairs the committee with Ann O’Brien.
According to IRIS, there are 19 million refugees in the world today, the largest number since World War II. After an in-depth vetting process which typically lasts over two years, the U.S. government invites 85,000 women, children, and men to become Americans each year. That number will increase to 100,000 in 2017. Eight hundred are arriving in Connecticut this year. The refugees will arrive legally, fully documented, with many skills, but often without knowledge of English and without much money.
Rettger, who retired from his position with a Stamford reinsurance company last year, said he wanted to become involved after seeing a presentation about the plight of the refugees. “It’s an opportunity to help in a meaningful way in an area that needs a lot of help,’’ Rettger said.
Rettger said resettling refugees poses several challenges. His organization will try to help find employment for the settlers. The lack of public transportation and the high cost of housing in Fairfield County also pose extraordinary hurdles.
“We’re also integrating people into the community, and vice versa, while still maintaining their traditions,’’ O'Brien said. “Once we know more about where the family is from, we’ll be looking to connect them with people with similar backgrounds, both in Ridgefield and in other towns, such as Danbury or Mount Kisco, to hopefully provide a little familiarity to their prior culture as they acclimate to their new life in the U.S."
Committee members will help the family learn to navigate the community, including enrolling children in school, facilitating job searches and language training, and performing other necessary tasks, such as driving. The goal is that the family be relatively self-sufficient in six months.
"We're trying to be prepared for all of their potential needs, the first of which will likely be translators,'' Rettger said. "One of the challenges we have is that we don’t know the specifics of who might be coming. We’re spending a lot of time thinking about Arabic languages. But who knows, we might find out we need translators for French instead."
During that first six months, the refugees will need help with living expenses, so the committee is looking to raise $15,000 for the family. “We would like to have logistics and funds in place by mid-September so that it could welcome a family by October or November,” Rettger said.
Rettger said Ridgefield is seeking a core group of at least 10, people each willing to put in an average of four hours per week, for a period of three to six months. It will also need additional volunteers who can assist with the tasks involved in the resettlement effort, such as English language tutors, drivers, and interpreters.
Meetings in recent weeks have included presentations from the Wilton group (WI-ACT) and a Danbury resettlement group (DARA) to hear about the realities of the commitment, so people have a sense of the time requirements.
To learn more about the process and how to get involved, come to an information session or contact the committee at RRCRidgefield@gmail.com. To make a tax-deductible donation, go to the ‘online giving’ tab at www.ststephens-ridgefield.org , which is managing donations on behalf of the committee.