For this month’s thought leader piece, we met with John Arnold, Sr. Housing Manager of the Welcome Co-op, to talk about Afghanistan relief and resettlement efforts as a collaborative effort in Atlanta. John has served refugees in his work for the past 25 years, including serving as the Programs Director for World Relief in Atlanta prior to his work with New American Pathways and the Welcome Co-op.
The mass evacuations of our Afghan allies began in the midst of a nationwide housing shortage, efforts to rebuild resettlement programs preceding a global pandemic, and a transition period in the country between presidential administrations. There is not a team better suited for tackling these challenges and welcoming new Americans to their homes across metro-Atlanta than the Welcome Co-op, a collaborative effort amongst several local resettlement agencies.
In partnership with New American Pathways, IRC Atlanta, Catholic Charities Atlanta, and Inspiritus, the Welcome Co-op has spent the past couple of months welcoming a flood of new Americans to metro-Atlanta and is quickly preparing to welcome a second-wave of evacuees from Afghanistan in the coming weeks. Additionally, the team has been securing housing and welcoming families from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, and Eritrea, as well as opening the doors to the Shop of Hope, where refugees can ‘shop’ for clothing items at no cost to them. John shares that his team has been blown away by the outpouring of support they have received from the community, including generous gifts of service, items, and money. The moments that have stood out the most are the young volunteers who have arrived at the warehouse with countless welcome kits that they have put together and that will be distributed to refugee children, their new neighbors, as they make their new homes in Atlanta.
The goal of the Co-op is to consistently make individuals feel welcome in their new communities, surrounded by an abundance of resources and support, as well as refugee neighbors to uplift families on their path to self-sufficiency. To achieve this, the Welcome Co-op works to build sustainable relationships with housing partners, including in communities beyond Clarkston. Creating lasting relationships has been vital to securing both temporary and permanent housing for new arrivals, though they have not yet had to utilize temporary housing for families in local community members’ homes, which could be complicated by the quarantine requirement for individuals who have recently arrived.
In the future, the Welcome Co-op hopes to continue seeing long-term support and relationships transcending heightened periods of refugee crises in the media. While the collapse of the Afghanistan government has sparked a public interest in supporting refugee resettlement across the country, this refugee crisis is not a stand-alone event. If there is anything individuals can take away from the images of those desperately trying to flee their homes and crowding into aircrafts headed for safety, it is that unfortunately, conflict and crises around the world are generating refugees coming to the United States everyday. Organizations like the Welcome Co-op and New American Pathways are rising to respond to the needs of new Americans year-round, and that requires continued community-wide support.
What does a long-term community commitment to resettlement efforts look like? For starters, staying informed on not only refugee crises, but also on policy and advocacy efforts on both a local and national scale is important to being an advocate for our refugee neighbors. As the news of Afghanistan evacuations begins to phase out, this is the time when the Welcome Co-op and resettlement agencies will need additional funding, donations, and committed volunteers. For the Welcome Co-op, this will include donations of winter coats, new and gently-used furniture, full sets of cookware and dishware, and volunteer assistance in the Shop of Hope and assembling welcome kits. It will also be imperative moving forward that the Welcome Co-op is continuing to make meaningful connections with housing complexes and that communities encourage new Americans to reach self-sufficiency by hiring refugees and providing job training along with needed resources.
We are continually grateful to our partners and community members that have joined us in welcoming Afghan allies to Atlanta as a collaborative effort and to our partner resettlement organizations.