A community meeting is scheduled for 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10 at Warsaw Community High School Performing Arts Center about what is necessary to aid refugee families and assist in their resettlement. Pictured (L to R) are Lisa Meadows, Sacred Heart Catholic Church; Emily Cash, Valley Springs Fellowship Church; and Dick Rooker, Valley Springs Fellowship Church. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
A community meeting is scheduled for 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10 at Warsaw Community High School Performing Arts Center about what is necessary to aid refugee families and assist in their resettlement. Pictured (L to R) are Lisa Meadows, Sacred Heart Catholic Church; Emily Cash, Valley Springs Fellowship Church; and Dick Rooker, Valley Springs Fellowship Church. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
The local community has an opportunity to help the refugees from Afghanistan being resettled in northern Indiana.

A meeting to explain how is scheduled for 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10 at the Warsaw Community High School Performing Arts Center. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

When the U.S. ended its war in Afghanistan at the end of August and left the country, many Afghans also fled – or tried to flee – the Taliban-controlled country, with tens of thousands refugees resettling in American communities. Nearly 7,000 Afghan evacuees were housed at Camp Atterbury in Indiana.

“In August when the Afghan evacuation started and the planes were taking off and there were people clinging to wings, I saw those images and I’ve never known that kind of desperation to think that my best move in life would be to get on the wing of an airplane that’s going up I don’t know how high or I don’t know how far,” said Dick Rooker, Valley Springs Fellowship Church.

Seeing those images, he wanted to do something about it. He started looking into where those refugees were going and what was going on. Along the way, he discovered 6,700 were going to be at Camp Atterbury and there was opportunity to serve them there. Then he discovered some of those refugees were coming north to Fort Wayne and there would be opportunity to serve them in this geographic area.

Rooker, along with his wife Nancy, contacted Catholic Charities and Nicole Kurut met with them. She told them Sacred Heart Church was already on board looking for ways to serve. A meeting was set up with Sacred Heart, Father Jonathan Norton; Mark and Lisa Meadows, Sacred Heart Church; and Emily Cash, of Valley Springs Fellowship, to see how they could combine their efforts to help the refugees who, after being bounced around the world, have landed permanently in the area.

“I think there was a combined understanding or a belief that we have a generous community and this is an opportunity for us to express that generosity and act to serve others in need,” Rooker said.

He said Kurut told them that Catholic Charities has long served refugee populations, such as the well-established Burmese population in Fort Wayne. The U.S. government also has designated Catholic Charities as the organization in northeast Indiana to settle refugees in this area of the country.

Rooker said Catholic Charities told them there were two main ways they could help.

“Under normal circumstances, Catholic Charities prefers refugees settle in the urban area of Fort Wayne because the infrastructure is there to help them. It is a diverse community. Catholic charities is there and so they have the infrastructure to take care of that,” he said. “This is not a normal circumstance. This is an emergency circumstance.”

Warsaw may be able to be used as a “release valve” because Catholic Charities and Fort Wayne don’t have the housing that it needs. Rooker said Catholic Charities likes to move people once, so “wherever they’re coming from, (they) move them into their permanent housing, and normally they’re able to take care of that. They can’t do that this time. The refugees that are coming to the Fort Wayne area are currently being housed in hotel rooms, so they are going to be bounced around again. And if they can’t find housing, Warsaw could be that opportunity to provide housing.”

He said there are two opportunities:

1. For the Warsaw community to give and serve the Afghan refugees from 45 miles away, with financial resources, time and talents. Time might be helping the refugees move in their homes in the Fort Wayne area or mentoring people in English language acquisition and cultural norms.

2. If Warsaw ends up being the emergency release valve, “We settle maybe five families in Warsaw because we would want them to have a community. And that’s a deeper and much longer-lasting commitment because then we would become the case workers for each family that was here. And that would involve financial resources, transportation, job acquisition, all the things that go into being a stranger in a strange land moving into a strange place,” Rooker said.

Lisa Meadows said what they’re trying to figure out, with the two potential options, “We know, just from past experience in Warsaw, the community always pulls together. It always pulls together. So how much of an interest is there? And how can we get everybody together that we can help and serve. And whether that’s here or in Fort Wayne, all things are possible, it’s just a matter of how we can determine and pull those resources together.”

Cash said the Nov. 10 meeting has a two-fold purpose. One is to educate the local community on the refugees’ needs, and the other is for organizers to collect data to give to Catholic Charities in terms of how the community can support the refugees.

There is a financial aspect to it because the refugees need everything, Meadows said. However, they also don’t expect everyone to give monetarily. Others can give their time or knowledge.

“So we’re really trying to see what resources are in the community so that we can kind of get to the next steps in a path forward to be able to assist. Money is always needed,” Meadows said.

Cash said, according to Kurut, even in Fort Wayne there’s not much of an Afghan population. Many Middle Easterns end up in South Bend. Meadows said South Bend is another area where another group of Afghan refugees could resettle. Right now, 14 people are being resettled in Fort Wayne with more to come.

“The sooner we can figure out commitments, the sooner we’ll be able to help serve in that area,” Meadows said.

Rooker said there are four languages in Afghanistan. The Warsaw area lacks Afghan language, as far as they know, and mosques. “So, culturally, this is a huge ask for our community and it’s a huge adjustment for Afghan refugees. That’s why Fort Wayne is a better and preferred option. There are mosques in Fort Wayne. There are Afghan speakers in Fort Wayne. So it’s a better solution,” he said. “We still are going to have an ask on Wednesday that individuals or groups go over and serve in Fort Wayne because the need is there. And we need to step up to the need and we will step up to the need.”

Meadows said she is going to connect with the city and county officials so they know about it. Schools will be represented, as well as churches.

“If we were to get refugee families, that’s a huge responsibility and schools need to know. Does the community have the capacity to do that?” Rooker said.

He said the refugees will be looking for work, which is a huge step for them to take and accomplish.

“We don’t get to know who Catholic Charities gets,” Meadows said. “Like Catholic Charities doesn’t get to say, ‘We want a family of four’ or ‘We have a house but it’s only going to fit three people.’ So we have to be willing to work and get creative. So the more people we have in the loop, then I think we can leverage the creativity and really being able to help out in a unique way.”

Cash said Catholic Charities has some basic ideas about demographics that almost all the families being resettled are families and they’re larger families. There’s not a lot of single people or couples, and if there are single people it’s almost never women. The likelihood of it being larger families is high.

If anyone can not attend the Nov. 10 community meeting but wants more information or to help, the meeting will be livestreamed through the Valley Springs Fellowship website at vsf.online.church; and the email is warsawafghanhelp@gmail.com.

Meadows said, “I think one of the important things is ... you see the pictures and it just reminds me of the community getting together like with Feed My Starving Children. And those pictures that we saw of the Afghan people clinging to the airplanes, like Dick said, you can’t even imagine a life like that. So being able to resettle them here and wanting them to integrate here so that we can serve them and help in their process is important. I think that’s what’s unique about Warsaw, it doesn’t really happen in a lot of other communities. ... I think we’re a unique community and if anybody can make it happen, we can.”