Small Forces: What have things at Exodus been like considering the changes to the refugee program?
Susan Odom: We are saddened that there’s been a decrease in the number of refugees coming to our country at this time. As a result in changes with U.S. policy, the global refugee resettlement is predicted to fall by 30%-40% in 2017 compared to 2016. So we see the impact of that, but on the other hand, we’ve also seen an outpouring of support from volunteers and communities in the Chicago area who want to continue to welcome refugees and help them adjust to a new life here.
SF: Tell us about the two new programs Exodus has started.
SO: We’ve begun to serve refugees who’ve already been here for a few months. Historically, Exodus programs have helped volunteers welcome refugees on their first day in the United States and their first several months as they’re just getting adjusted to their new communities. And now we’re adding two new programs that will help volunteers walk alongside refugees even further as they rebuild their lives in our communities.
The first new program is called Carepack, it’s similar to our Welcome Pack program, which provides needed, essential household items to recently arrived refugees, but also through a personal connection with a volunteer who becomes a friend, and a welcoming face of hospitality to refugees who are coming here literally with nothing- no family, friends, belongings.
The second program is called New Neighbor Conversations. These are volunteers who are helping refugees practice their English in conversation. There’s a curriculum, and workbook and things they use over a four month period. Exodus did a year of research and focus groups of refugees who were already here in our communities to find out what they needed, and it turns out they had many unmet needs, but at the root seemed to be one core issue, and that was the need for improved english language skills, so we launched New Neighbor Conversations to meet that need.
SF: Do you have any updates from your gala?
SO: We had one of our highest attendance ever, over 670 people came out in support of refugee ministry. We raised our highest amount yet of $207,000 that night towards our budget. We are so grateful and thankful for that outpouring of support of people who recognize that refugees are people who are forced to flee their homeland due to war and persecution. So many people here are opening their hearts and receiving them here as legal residents.
SF: Anything else we should know?
SO: There continues to be a lot of misinformation about the plight of refugees and how they come to the United States so we continue to be so grateful for Small Forces. It has helped us tell the story of refugees so people can understand the refugee journey, and learn that refugees are actually very courageous survivors who have a lot to contribute to our community and we are so thankful for Small Forces for helping us tell our story.