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Falmouth group forms to help resettle Afghan evacuees: 'The goal is to empower these people'

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Marga McElroy
The Falmouth Neighborhood Support Team includes co-chairs Marga McElroy and JoAnn Fishbein; Rev. Nell Fields; Jane Parhiala; and Janet Simons Folger. They are working with Worcester-based Ascentria Care Alliance to mobilize volunteers ahead of resettling Afghan evacuees.

A five-woman team from Falmouth is supporting New England’s largest refugee-resettlement agency to welcome Afghan evacuees to Massachusetts, including Cape Cod.

Marga McElroy is co-chair of a neighborhood support team, which includes co-chair JoAnn Fishbein, a hospice social worker; Rev. Nell Fields of Waquoit Congregational Church; author Jane Parhiala; and Janet Simons Folger, secretary of Neighborhood Falmouth. They are working with Worcester-based Ascentria Care Alliance to mobilize local volunteers ahead of resettlement.

More than 50,000 Afghans evacuated Taliban rule last month and await processing on U.S. military bases. Last week Congress approved expediting asylum applications for Afghan evacuees and offering them the level of help usually given to refugees.

But it’s unknown how long that will take.

McElroy spoke with Patrick Flanary on CAI’s Morning Edition.

Patrick Flanary: Why form a group, why in Falmouth, and what was the impetus for this?

Marga McElroy: I guess the impetus was watching the evacuation on TV, and feeling that we ought to do something. It turns out that there were a lot of people trying to figure out how to do something. A friend connected us with Ascentria, which is one of the few placement agencies. That particular organization has a reimagined approach to refugee resettlement. And the first step in that is forming an NST, a Neighborhood Support Team.

PF: What are the most immediate needs for a family coming into the country for the first time?

MM: The key thing that they need is a place to feel safe. Falmouth is a community of welcome. Our weak link was transportation, and we’ve already had 30 people offer to be drivers.

PF: This is a community-led group of people who may work in faith-based organizations and social work?

MM: Having lived in other cultures by my own choice, I am well aware that there are feelings of isolation. And coming here under trauma, I can’t even imagine how great those feelings will be. Already, before we’ve even got any evacuees, we’re feeling very happy about how our community is stepping up to make sure that there is a welcoming atmosphere for these people.

PF: And how soon do you know when a family might arrive?

MM: Sometime in the next month we expect them to start arriving. We still need to get our housing inspected, and once our first two housing locations are approved, we could have 36 hours’ notice.

We just don’t know exactly when this is going to happen. Ascentria’s approach will be to bring the people to Worcester, and work with a case worker to see what skills they have and what their aspirations are. And then do something really unique in placement, and that will be to show them the profiles of the leadership and the community that they think might be a good match, and empower them to be part of the choice of where they go.

We’re proud Americans and we want to share the best of what America can be with these new people, and that’s what we’re after here, is further enriching our culture by bringing in people who come from a rich culture that has been damaged. And we want to show them the warmth and the best parts of America.

PF: What about employment opportunities?

MM: There are oodles here. Just driving down Main Street, you see We’re Hiring signs everywhere. The key problem to placing them here is transportation. We are putting together an enormous carpool team. As soon as we get them and see what their needs are going to be, we have a housing team that will begin to look for suitable, affordable housing with the knowledge that, when they get placed in jobs, what kind of housing will they be able to afford.

The long-term goal is to empower these people to become independent and build new lives here. That’s why we formed this team, because we knew Falmouth could and would step up.