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Vineyarders gather, reflect on experience with migrants

Nearly 50 volunteers on Martha’s Vineyard who helped shelter and feed the Venzuelan migrants flown to the island last week gathered for a time of shared reflection on Thursday. Many who gathered at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edgartown, the same shelter where the 48 migrants stayed for two nights, said the experience changed them forever.

The event, "Calling All Angels," began with the Bill Wither’s song, “Lean On Me” and a prayer by Reverend Chip Seadale.

“We are thankful that everyone decided to work together, no matter what sector, what institution, they were from,” Father Chip began. “Not seeing anyone as a certain category, but seeing people for the infinitely valuable beings we were created to be.”

After prayers and more songs in both English and Spanish, the evening centered on three questions: What did we learn? How have we changed? And what’s next?

Islanders discussed “adopting” a church in Texas, where migrants frequently pass through, as part of a larger conversation about how to direct resources to border communities. Several residents also said they’ve been inspired to volunteer more with struggling year-rounders.

“It really opened my eyes to wanting to know more about the support that we have in place for people on the Vineyard, and make sure that I’m doing enough to help the people in my community who need that love and support,” Laura Noonan said, sitting in one of the pews at the event. “It was an unusual situation, but I think it’s important to think about our neighbors and what we need to do for them. That outpouring of support has to be visible all the time.”

Several people said they wanted to use this momentum to propel a conversation about the island’s affordable housing problem. Others said they hoped this was an opportunity to educate youth on Martha’s Vineyard for years to come.

One man, who’d served as an interpreter for the migrants, said the experience impacted him “beyond what I was ready to absorb.”

Others struggled to describe the strong emotional impact of last week's events: some said they are now “fuller,” changed by the experience of altruistic giving in the best of ways; others said they’re now more grateful for their privileges.

And some said they were pained by the stories migrants told about their journey to the U.S.

Reverend Cathlin Baker, of the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury, said the experience has inspired a community-wide consciousness-raising.

“You work forever trying to help people get ‘ah-ha’ moments,” she said. “And then a huge number of people all have a common, shared ‘ah-ha’ moment. This has to be harnessed.”

The migrants voluntarily moved to Joint Base Cape Cod last Friday. Island volunteers, who developed deep bonds with several of their so-called “Venezuelan friends” are planning a trip to visit the base in the coming days.

“We have been changed by them,” Father Chip said, “and they have been changed by us.”

More on the migrants saga:

Migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard have filed a lawsuit against Gov. DeSantis

Trolling Martha's Vineyard: Island residents on the receiving end of abuse over helping migrants

Migrants at the Base: here's how they're set up and what comes next

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.