A new regional initiative aimed at making St. Louis a focal point for the resettlement of Afghan immigrants was announced Jan. 12 at the International Institute of St. Louis.
Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski joined with area leaders to initiate a call to action for volunteers, housing and financial support.
Jerry Schlichter, local attorney and a founder of Arch Grants, announced a comprehensive program to help resettle Afghan families who have been displaced from their homeland. It includes resources for housing, and the establishment of an Afghan newspaper, chamber of commerce and community center, among other resources. Schlichter said the plan, which is fully funded and expected to begin immediately, is part of a broader effort to motivate others to become involved.
Seven states have received half of the 31,000 Afghan evacuees relocated from U.S military bases, with remaining Afghan families to leave military bases by February. Since January, St. Louis has resettled 538 individuals in 155 cases from Afghanistan.
The archbishop joined Arrey Obenson, president and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis, and Todd Schnuck, CEO of Schnucks Markets, at the press conference to address the need for volunteers, monetary donations and housing for the resettlement of Afghan families.
“Immigrants play an important role in our future and in providing growth and expansion in our communities,” Archbishop Rozanski said. “Our moral compass, our compassion as human beings, calls on all of us to welcome and support our fellow people, especially those in need, who are looking for freedom in living and in worship.
“Catholics are called to serve our immigrant brothers and sisters. We are a Church of immigrants who look to the Lord as our guiding light. We are reminded of our biblical mandate to show love and compassion to all. … Together we are called to respond to the multitude of challenges and injustices that stem from global migration with — as Pope Francis says — generosity, promptness, wisdom and foresight.”
The International Institute of St. Louis is one of nine resettlement agencies in 19 cities designated by federal government to work with refugees. In recent years, the International Institute has downsized because of a lack of refugees being accepted into the country due to national policies. Schlichter noted that the effort will help to rebuild the infrastructure needed to welcome immigrants and refugees to the area.
“Throughout our history, immigrants have been vital to the success of America, and to St. Louis.” said Schlichter, who started Arch Grants, a nonprofit global startup competition that has provided grants to more than 200 companies and provided thousands of jobs in St. Louis. “The immigrants St. Louis has welcomed over the years have brought a work ethic along with an infusion of their unique culture that have strengthened neighborhoods and made our community a better place to live. Welcoming a critical mass of Afghan refugees right now is a one-time opportunity to help reverse the steady decline of our region relative to the rest of the country.”
Obenson of the International Institute noted that 80 local organizations partner with the institute, providing connections to medical care, registering children in school, transportation, housing and more.A command center also has been launched to address the immediate needs of newcomers.
There a need for volunteers at the International Institute to sponsor refugees, helping with a wide range of tasks including transportation, access to medical help, apartment set-ups, job opportunities and office support. For information on donations or volunteer opportunities with the International Institute, see www.iistl.org.