News Tribune features Catholic Charities Refugee Services work settling Afghan Evacuees

Refugees finding support to help them succeed in Mid-Missouri

by Joe Gamm | January 16, 2022 at 4:00 a.m. | Click here to read the full article

The first Afghan refugees to resettle in Jefferson City arrived a month ago.

In total, 16 individuals, mostly spread among two brothers’ families, have found new homes in the Capital City, said Dan Lester, executive director of the local chapter of Catholic Charities. At least one more family is expected to settle in Jefferson City by the end of January.

Meanwhile, the first arrivals are getting used to their new home.

They’ve been polishing up their English language skills and are preparing for their next steps.

“This is a transitional period, where they’re starting to look for employment, and they’re starting to learn to navigate the grocery store,” Lester said. “(Jobs and schools) are the next level. That’s what we’re sort of transitioning into right now.”

As U.S. airplanes left Afghanistan this summer at the end of a 20-year war, the Taliban overran the country. The Biden administration said it expected to settle about 125,000 Afghans in the United States.

Thousands arrived in August and found temporary shelter in U.S. military bases. Central Missouri cities are among the 200 communities across the nation that are supporting the newcomers.

Catholic Charities of Central and Northeast Missouri is bringing in more than 270 refugees in a 12-week period, Lester said, to settle within a number of communities the nonprofit serves. The nonprofit’s previous 12-month high for refugee intake had been 229, in 2016.

“Our focus has just been on, ‘Do they have a safe, sanitary home? Do they have some culturally appropriate foods? Do they have enough warm clothes to see them through this Missouri winter? Do they have some beds to sleep on?'” Lester said.

Catholic Charities has helped refugees from around the world integrate into Missouri for the past 40 years, Lester said. Many of the 4,000 refugees the organization placed over the decades have found homes in the Columbia area. It has placed them in other communities as well, such as Sedalia. The Rotary Club of Fulton was the first Central Missouri sponsor to prepare for an entire Afghan family and helped settle in a family of 13 late last fall.