January Volunteers of the Month: Louisa Merchant and All Saints’ Episcopal
All Saints’ Episcopal Church is one of New American Pathways’ longest-serving faith partners. Their phenomenal refugee ministry has been running for 25 years, since the early 90’s when a parishioner was inspired to help Bosnian refugees. All Saints’ helps newly arriving refugees adjust to life in America through co-sponsorship, where a faith or community partner works with New American Pathways to welcome a newly arrived family and help make their first months after arrival easier to navigate.
Louisa Merchant is the coordinator of the ministry. She heads up a team of 75 active volunteers who help in various ways with each co-sponsored refugee family – from collecting furniture and basic needs to setup the family’s apartment, to welcoming them at the airport when they arrive, to helping them learn English, and more!
Before Louisa became the ministry coordinator, she was an assistant principal at an Islamic school. Louisa was working at the school when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred and saw first-hand how these events led to increased “Islamophobia” for many people. She was compelled to continue helping Islamic communities, including refugees, and to make known the benefits of multi-cultural communities.
Louisa says that an unexpected benefit of having a refugee ministry is how it unifies the congregation for a common cause. ”When a parish works within its community to help refugee families,” Louisa says, “not only does this combat the structure of poverty, but also it creates lasting and meaningful relationships among members of the church through working together for the greater good.”
In her time with All Saints’, Louisa has overseen 10 refugee families through co-sponsorships – sometimes welcoming more than one family a year. Despite how long the ministry has been running, Louisa says the partnership between New American Pathways and All Saints’ has only become stronger. She believes the ministry could not function without the expertise of the staff helping them along.
While Louisa could share many stories that convey how impactful their ministry has been, she shared one about a family All Saints worked with whose father had suffered from some health problems. After months of working with the family, the father achieved one of his many dreams – he obtained his driver’s license and was able to utilize a car donated by the church. Louisa was able to see the direct impact when the father showed up at a welcome picnic for a newly arrived refugee family, driving up in his own car to help welcome this newly arrived family. Louisa was moved by the action, knowing the man had worked hard to get to where he was now. Driving his car to the picnic was a simple yet profound statement that he had reached a new level of self-sufficiency.
We at New American Pathways are so thankful for co-sponsoring groups like All Saints’ who create a welcoming and supportive environment for new American families resettling in Georgia. If your faith or community group is interested in volunteering with us, contact Hope Gray to learn more!