I recently had an opportunity to meet a few of the many refugees being helped by Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven.
As someone who moved to the United States as a child, I know that making the transition to a new country can be very challenging. Thankfully, we had neighbors, teachers and others within the community who made us feel welcome and helped us learn the new customs, the language and other things we needed to know to become comfortable in our new home.
I know that not everyone who comes to this country is fortunate enough to have such a support group, however. And that is especially true of those who are refugees.
IRIS Executive Director Chris George and his team do a tremendous job each year of helping hundreds of refugees rebuild their lives in Connecticut.
In operation since 1982, IRIS assists as many as 500 men, women and children each year, including about 230 new arrivals. Most of the recent refugees have come from Iraq, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Sudan and Colombia.
IRIS welcomes every refugee family to New Haven with a furnished and equipped apartment. In addition, Chris and his team provide English classes for adults, help enroll their kids in school, connect them to health care and help them find jobs. They also provide immigration legal services to help them reunite with family members left behind.
“We don’t have enough money to help them for very long,” Chris told me. “Our job is to help refugees get off to a good start.”
The federal government gives refugee agencies such as IRIS some funding, but Chris says that it is not enough, especially in a relatively expensive state like Connecticut.
As a result, the organization depends heavily on outside support.
“Without additional private funds – like the grant from the Tariq Farid Foundation – we would have to close down,” Chris told me.
There is another reason that support of IRIS is so close to my heart. My grandmother was a refugee and I know the struggles she and her family faced when forced to leave their home.
Now I am blessed to have an opportunity to help others in similar situations and I hope that others will join me in showing their support as well.