Programs

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Our goal is help new refugee families settle in and become members of our community. To achieve this, Open Doors offers the following programs.

Emergency Funding Program

Early this last April we estimated that over 50% of the former-refugee population lost their job in the pandemic. In response to the economic devastation, Open Doors created an Emergency Funding program and allocated $10,000 (about half our assets at the time) towards relief funding. Initially, we contacted the 85 families whom we know and offered relief funding if they 1) had been here less than five years, 2) had an adult in the home who had lost a job because of COVID, and 3) they needed and wanted our help. 55 families (65%) responded, and we were able to give each of them $200. Please see the thank you notes we received in the blog section of this website.

In the meantime, the response and financial support from the community has been strong. In May over 30 people donated more than $6,000, and then we took in over $4,000 in the Walk Your Talk fundraiser. Financially we’re back to where we were two months ago, so now we are launching the second phase of Emergency Funding.

This time we’re taking a more targeted approach to try to get a larger check to a smaller number of the most hard-hit families. We are partnering with Jewish Social Services and we’ll rely on their staff to figure out what the family needs and has, and to ensure that the families are enrolled in the various federal, state and local programs currently available to them. Then, depending on the needs of the family, we’ll cost-share with JSS to address those needs. We expect to roll out this second phase in early July when we finalize remaining details.

If you would like to support our new neighbors and help them endure this catastrophe, you can make a contribution to Open Doors here. Thank you so much for your generosity and support.

Connecting Neighbors Program

Connecting Neighbors is a 6-month-long volunteering program that pairs a companion or small group of companions (welcomers) with a refugee or refugee family (newcomer) to form a Connecting Neighbors Group. The Connecting Neighbors program strives to facilitate meaningful cultural exchange between its volunteers and refugee community members. The idea of Connecting Neighbors is based on reciprocity: Each individual has something to give and something to gain.

First and foremost, self-sufficiency is the goal. This means that refugees should be able to support themselves financially, handle day-to-day tasks with confidence, and make decisions on behalf of themselves and their family based on their unique needs and abilities. Open Doors for Refugees believes that becoming friends is the most valuable way you can serve and allow a refugee to serve you in return.

Connecting Neighbors welcomers play a key role in the successful resettlement of newly arrived refugees in the United States. By providing a warm welcome, genuine friendship, and practical help, Connecting Neighbors ensure that the newcomers become self-sufficient and independent as quickly as possible.

As with anyone who will have contact with refugee families, prospective welcomers first have to have a background check.

A waiting list currently exists for those interested in becoming volunteer welcomers. If you would like to be placed on the waiting list, or if you or someone you know would like to participate in the program as a refugee newcomer, please contact Sam Van Akkeren (samvanakkeren@gmail.com).

Skill-Building Program

One of the goals of Open Doors is to help new arrivals develop new skills to help them become more independent. Hence, we’ve put together a Skill-Building Program to foster and encourage newcomers to learn new skills. This program provides a modicum of cost-sharing to help pay for training.

We fund half the cost of a class or training, up to $500 (our share) in one year or $1,000 over five years. We’ve also used that money to help buy books and equipment.

In the last two years, 29 people have taken advantage of this program. Among women, especially Muslim women who perhaps weren’t able to drive in their home country, it’s most commonly been used to take Driver’s Education classes (“behind the wheel”, where $370 pays for half the cost of seven 1.5-hour driving lessons). Men have most often used the program to help get vocational training, such as to become an electrician or medical translator or truck driver, and a couple of men are in college!

This program has helped a lot of people become more independent, but it’s also expensive. As the number of people we serve has grown and our income has shrunk, we’ve considered whether or not we can continue with this program at these levels. For now, we’re holding our own but it’s tenuous. If this is something you’d like to support, please make a financial donation to us here and ask that the funds be earmarked to support this program. Thank you for your support.