Alert: Our building is closed, yet our hearts are open. Connect with our online offerings! more info »

Refugee Response Ministry

  • {image:caption}

Refugee Family Update

Dec., 5, 2018
St. C's Refugee Family: How Are They Doing?

Shared by Lois Herrmann
A loving partnership continues between St. C's and our Afghan refugee family, the Khwaja's, a year-and-a half into their new life in America. Family members have responded, each in their own way, to the daunting challenges of adjusting to a very different culture and to finding their paths in our busy city. They have been especially strengthened by their bonds of family love, and by a lot of help from their friends at St. Columba's. Montgomery County programs and services – from wonderful schools to English classes to summer camps – have also factored importantly into their journey.

Viewing the family's progress, Jim Losey, co-chair of St. C's Refugee Response Ministry (RRM), said: "It hardly seems that it's only been 22 months since they arrived – exhausted but happy – at Dulles. They have truly come a long way. I feel that St. Columba's is richer since the Khwaja's entered our lives.”

Adjusting to dramatic life change, of course, brings ups and downs. Dad Fridoon, a font of energy and good spirits, secured a job in his field of heating and air conditioning in June 2017, helped by the RRM's employment subcommittee (Alice Goodman, Susan Laing, Shelly Gehshan, Peggy Treadwell). Unfortunately he suffered the return of a serious back injury while on the job – which involved heavy lifting. As a result, he had to miss several weeks of work and when he returned to work, had to reduce his number of work hours.

Adrienne Clamp, Jean Ann Wright, and others took Fridoon to medical appointments as he made his way through a discouraging period. Based on the recommendations of his doctor and physical therapist, he left his HVAC job in September. Now, with the continued assistance of the employment subcommittee, Fridoon is looking for full-time employment in a field that does not involve heavy lifting. Meantime, he is working as a Lyft driver.

Mom Shakeba has worked hard at learning English and is still attending language classes at Montgomery College, where she has made friends. In an activity organized by Cindy Anderson, St. Columbans, two at a time, have been joining Shakeba for English conversation over tea at the Khwaja's Silver Spring apartment.

Shakeba is a gifted cook and, with help from Judith Kozlowski, has done occasional catering of Afghan meals. She also will pursue part-time work, possibly including housecleaning for older adults, so she can help the family make ends meet.

Fridoon and Shakeba, like parents everywhere, are focused on bright futures for their children. Their boys, Siddiq, Omer, and Usman, are prospering. All three have made great strides in mastering English, are doing extremely well in school, have impressed their teachers, and made friends. And they have demonstrated their prowess on the soccer field!

St. C’s made it possible for Usman to participate in a 10-week summer camp at his new school, North Chevy Chase Elementary. Siddiq in grade 11 and Omer in grade 9 at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School, completed 20 hours of community service with St. Columba youth this summer (pictured at right), thanks to Keri Piester. They both have received babysitting certification as “Safe Sitters.” Siddiq has steady babysitting work, and Omer aims to dogsit and babysit.

Katherine Martin helped the family apply and qualify for a low-income rent program so they have been able to stay in their Montgomery County apartment when the rent was about to go up. But the cost of housing and other essentials in our area has prompted the RRM, based on assessments by the finance subcommittee (Gardell Gefke and Laura Hills), to continue partially subsidizing the family for a limited period of time.

Everyone in our parish who has met and interacted with the Khwaja family has found the experience deeply rewarding. Alice Goodman sums it up this way: “The Khwaja's are enthusiastic, curious and eager to learn. I feel fortunate for the opportunity to know the family, to learn from them, and to see the world through their eyes.”

To all the St. Columbans who have offered their financial help, their time, and their creativity to this project, the RRM sends warmest thanks for keeping alive the promise of America for a wonderfully deserving refugee family.

Help Wanted!
Volunteers are still needed to join Shakeba for English conversation, to help Fridoon with written English, and to offer employment ideas for Fridoon and Shakeba and weekend jobs for Siddiq and Omer.

Tues., Dec. 12, 2017
The Khwaja Family's Story Continues

Shared by Lois Herrmann
According to Judith Kozlowsky, one of a handful of St. Columbans who have been deeply supportive of the family: “They have done remarkably well – and are far ahead of where they might be.” Kerianne Peister who also has been closely involved with the family, says: “It’s great to see them build a sense of community through their kids’ soccer, their schools, the apartment complex and other places. They are building a life here.”

Their biggest initial challenge was learning English. Shakeba and Fridoon have attended classes at Montgomery College diligently, and the boys have had classes and English-immersion at school. Usman, who is a second-grader at Rosemary Hills Elementary School, is a sponge for English and new experiences. Omer, in the 8th grade at Westland Middle School, is smart, good at soccer and is loved by his teachers. Siddiq is doing extremely well academically in 10th grade at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School and wants to be a computer engineer.

Big challenges remain for this wonderful family. The parents are finding written English difficult to master. And procuring long term employment at a wage that supports living in this area – is a constant worry. St. C’s Refugee Response Committee has often had to act quickly to meet the changing needs of the family. It has had help from parishioners with all kinds of expertise –housing, medical, employment, IT, English teaching, and transportation. It also has advised other parishes considering refugee partnership.

The Committee now has its own challenges: transitioning the Khwaja’s into further self-sufficiency - and deciding where we go from here as a parish that has found great lovepartnering with a refugee family.

Sat., Aug. 12, 2017
DC United Soccer Game

In August, our Afghan family, the Khwajas, joined St. Columbans: the Chen, Brinkeroff, and Perry families and Judith Kozlowsky for a DC United soccer game. Unfortunately the game was rained out after about 30 minutes, but that didn't dampen anyone's enthusiasm for the outing–or the Khwaja boys' love of soccer.

Mon., July 31, 2017
Cooking with Shakeba

Shared by Refugee Response minister, Judith Kozlowski
While driving the Khwajas home from an appointment, I learned Shakeba wanted to learn how to make pizza. So, two days later, my daughter, Christina and I went to the family's apartment to share with them our family recipe. We arrived with all the ingredients, including pizza dough, and started in. Everyone helped, but it was clear the kitchen belongs to Shakeba. We had a great time chopping and adding special ingredients. At dinner, we also shared Shakeba's fabulous okra dish. My agreement with Shakeba was a pizza lesson in exchange for one simple Afghan cooking lesson from her. We are in the process of setting that up–and maybe more–this summer!

Thurs., July 20, 2017
Making the Soccer Connection
Join St. C's Refugee Response ministry at a DC United soccer game on Sat., Aug. 12 (7 pm) at RFK Stadium. All are welcome to join in on this fun event and meet the Khwaja family that St. C's has been supporting. Reserve your tickets with Greg Chen by July 28.

Thurs., June 29, 2017
Our Refugee Family Moves Ahead

Thanks to his characteristic determination and some able assistance from several St. C's volunteers, our refugee Dad, Fridoon, began a job in his field last week. His freshly minted resume and good interviewing skills netted him entry-level work with a Rockville HVAC company (and on his first try!) Fridoon had extensive experience in the field in Afghanistan, but the route to becoming a fully licensed HVAC technician in the U.S. is a long process of apprenticeship, study and exams. Thanks be to God, Fridoon has taken the first step. Also with help from parishioners, he is closer to getting his driver’s license – having gotten over the hurdle of the written test. Soon he will take the driving test.

Fridoon and Shakeba's sons,  Siddiq, Omer and Usman, are enrolled in summer school and English language programs over the next couple of months. And they continue their passion with soccer in a Montgomery County Parks and Recreation program.

Shakeba has taken English classes at Montgomery College and is making her way around grocery stores with ease. The family has been attending services at a Silver Spring mosque every Friday, and observed Ramadan, with the parents and oldest son Siddiq adhering to daylight fasting for 40 days.

None of this would have been possible without the Khwaja family's courage and resilience, and loving support of all kinds (and miles and miles of driving) from devoted St. C's parishioners. Thank you, St. Columbans, for giving so much of your time, talent, and treasure – to help this wonderfully deserving family. They have been a great gift to our parish – as we hope we have been to them.

Mon., June 26, 2017
Congratulations, Fridoon!

This photo was taken just after Fridoon passed the knowledge test. Because of the language barrier, Fridoon had to make several tries to pass the written portion of the driver's license test. The Khwajas rarely smile in photos, but you can see a smile on both their faces here. There was lots of hugging and high fives. Thanks to Bob and Art for all they did to make this happen—finding a translator, going to DMV for document review, going to drug and alcohol education class, and so much more.

Mon., May 15, 2017
A Time to Catch Up

Let us gather on Mon., May 15 - 7 to 8:30 pm in the Great Hall, and make time to catch up on all of the happenings since our refugee family arrived on February 22. It has been 3 months...the children are in school, the parents are in ESL classes and and career training at Montgomery Community College. The family has been busy getting all of their paperwork in order and looking for employment. The boys are playing soccer on local teams, and in their "spare" time, a few family outings have been arranged. Whew! It was a lot to accomplish. Come see and hear about all of it! We have slides and reports, a time to reflect and a time to ask questions.

Thurs., May 11, 2017
New Bicycles for the Khwaja Boys

Mr. and Mrs. Khwaja really appreciated shopping at the New to You Sale. John Nolan helped Fridoon find two great bikes for his boys, who were so excited when we brought them home.

Sun., Apr. 23, 2017
A Message from a Neighbor

This message comes from Maya Teitelbaum, a Water Ministry colleague of Alex Acosta. Maya is not a St. C's parishioner, but came to the Water Ministry via her neighbor Betty King. Maya and Betty both live right around the corner from Paddington Square.

“Dear Alex, last Sunday my family and I were out in front of our home and along came your Afghan family, passing by to go to the bus. I thought they must be the new family, three boys, a wife and husband. I asked them and they answered that they are your church's sponsored family. We had a nice and friendly greeting. Tonight, I was in our lovely park behind our house and I met them again, the boys happy, riding bicycles. It made me feel very happy to know that they are out an about. Thanks for all your efforts in supporting this family. Greetings, Maya"

Fri., Mar. 3, 2017
Our Family Makes Their Home in America

Since their February 22nd arrival, our refugee family has been busy completing their US paperwork, signing the lease on their apartment and getting ready to move in this Saturday. Refugee Response ministry volunteers have taken the family to various agencies, getting their papers in order to meet school requirements, have their English assessed to determine what grade the children will be in and how much English instruction they will need. With welcome committee volunteers, the family toured the Mall and the National Museum of Natural History. This Sunday, the boys will play in an informal soccer game with our youth group.

Joanne Lin is coordinating drives to help clothe the family, collecting new and gently used items through Fri., Mar. 10. Parishioners interested in donating should refer to the following links that list specific needs for the father (click here to donate)
and for the rest of the family (click here to donate).

Wed., Feb. 22, 2017
A Safe Arrival: Praise the Lord!

This morning, Refugee Response ministry representatives Jim Losey, Jean Ann Wright and Leroy Walters welcomed our new family of five from Afghanistan–a mother, father and three boys, ages 7, 13 and 14. All were in good spirits despite a 15-hour flight from Kabul, connecting through Dubai, and 2 hours spent clearing immigration.

With only two weeks notice since the events of the first family (see "Waiting for a refugee family, in the wake of Trump’s ban"), the Refugee Response team quickly shifted gears to find a larger apartment in Silver Spring, in a good school district to accommodate the family's elementary, middle and high schoolers. The team then flexed its ministry muscle and arranged for temporary quarters over the next few weeks until the family’s apartment in Silver Spring is ready for move-in.

We are grateful for the family’s safe arrival and all the thoughtful preparation by the Refugee Response ministry members to anticipate their needs. Please keep our new family in your prayers as they acclimate to their new home.

Contacts: Jim Losey and Deacon Jean Ann Wright

Tues., Feb. 2, 2017
An Unexpected Turn of Events

After the refugee family we had initially agreed to sponsor decided to move in with members of their own family in Virginia, prompting a change in sponsorship plans, Lutheran Social Services asked us to partner with another family. It is a family of five from Afghanistan–a mother, father and three boys, ages 7, 13 and 14.

The Refugee Response committee has happily accepted and looks forward to welcoming this new family in late February. We ask for your prayers for their safe arrival. We are all are looking forward to helping this family settle in America."

Wed., Feb. 1, 2017

"We are filled with gratitude and relief that the Afghan family has safely entered the US. They successfully cleared immigration late in the evening yesterday. Unexpectedly, they were greeted by a brother of the wife who has been in the country one month, and they decided to go home with him last night, instead of to the temporary housing arranged by our Refugee Response ministry.

It is fortunate that this family has some options to consider, and they will meet with Lutheran Social Services in the next few days to make a final decision regarding where they will live. While our Refugee Response ministry representatives were surprised by this unexpected turn of events, we are all hopeful that we will find the very best way to serve this young family or, depending on the outcome, another refugee family.

We are grateful to the Refugee Response ministry members for all their efforts and to all the St. Columbans who contributed generously to this ministry. We remain committed to continuing to work for fair and equitable treatment of refugees around the world."

St. Columba's Refugee Response Ministry's own journey was covered in a thoughtful article published by The Washington Post entitled, "Waiting for a refugee family, in the wake of Trump’s ban."