Can you imagine starting from scratch and starting over again with your savings, your home, your job, your life? When our clients move to Anchorage as refugees from locations around the world, they are in that situation — beginning from scratch. There are now more refugees in the world who have been separated from their country of birth than ever before. I am reminded of the words from Scripture, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
Our refugee clients are the “stranger,” and we at Catholic Social Services are honored to welcome them as neighbors and friends, to know them, and to hear their stories and experiences that inform and richen our lives.
The work of our Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services (RAIS) program involves many facets. It begins with a welcome and initial resettlement into housing and then offers supports around living in this country and this place. Their community is our community — Anchorage — and we would like to invite you to join us in celebration this summer.
Please come celebrate World Refugee Day on June 21, at 4:30 p.m., at the Grow North Farm (3543 Mountain View Drive, Anchorage). This celebrations pays tribute to refugees in our community and around the world who have worked to reestablish themselves in a new home and have brought their strengths and experiences to a new place — making their new home better and stronger. It is a celebration of diversity in Mountain View, the most diverse census tract in the U.S., and it is a celebration of the common bond we all share. We hope you can join us.
Thinking about celebrating our refugee clients makes me recall a group of people I recently met. In March, an Academy Award-winning documentary film crew visited our RAIS program. They came to film a story that will be featured in a movie that focuses on kindness. The crew shared with me their premise, that there were so many examples of pure kindness around them, but mostly what we hear about is cruelty and negativity. I, too, feel bombarded with meanness sometimes, but my kids and my job remind me of joy and kindness every day.
Soon our conversation turned towards the stories in their film about our refugees and how many acts of pure love we saw and heard about. We discussed the many people in Anchorage who reach out to our clients to offer kindness and help with words, rides, time and food. We spoke of our RAIS staff who live out our mission by acts of kindness with every client, and we spoke of our refugee clients and their incredible stories. It brought tears to my eyes. We hope that by the end of the year the film will be complete, and we will invite you to view it with us at CSS.
Until the official viewing of the film, I hope you can find an example of kindness in your day today, and I hope you can share it with someone else. Our community is stronger and kinder for each of us, and for refugees from all over the world, who radiate strength and kindness for us all.
The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more on CSS, call 222-7300 or visit cssalaska.org.