YPSILANTI — Eastern Michigan University (EMU) is housing 12 Afghan refugee families in campus apartments and offering students volunteer opportunities.
In December, EMU announced the partnership with Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County (JFSWC) to help provide housing for the families and now that the families are getting settled, the university is looking for student volunteers.
JFSWC is a nonprofit human services agency focused on helping the most vulnerable in its community and has a Resettlement and Integration division where it resettles refugees from all over the world.
The agency has been helping refugees for more than 28 years, providing social services that help ease the process of settling into a new community and has resettled approximately 300 Afghan refugees since August.
“In late August, the crisis in Afghanistan started to unfold,” Devon Meier, chief development officer at JFSWC, said. “We agreed to help resettle 300 people, specifically just from Afghanistan. In the last three months, we have welcomed close to 260 individuals and we have another 70 or so people who we expect to be arriving by February and we may be asked to help additional folk.”
With staffing shortages nationwide, resettlement agencies are facing the challenges of safe, affordable housing and resources.
“When you have this many people coming all at once, of course things will get a bit backlogged,” Meier said. “We knew we were expecting to have to support folks for two to three months. Most of these people are coming over with very little; they had to just leave. We knew it was important to galvanize these resources to be able to help meet these basic needs. We are so grateful for the community support.”
EMU students have the opportunity to volunteer to help families resettle smoothly, including moving furniture into the apartments. There are also mentorship opportunities and opportunities of helping language partners.
“The volunteer experience was amazing,” Auryon Azar, EMU’s student body vice president, said. “I got to develop a personal connection with one family. Because I speak Farsi, I was able to communicate on a deeper level with them and talk about their personal situation, finding ESL classes and looking for jobs in the area.”
The increase of Afghan refugees stems from the rise of the Taliban after the U.S. abruptly departed after more than 20 years of war, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The U.S. government has also said it is expecting about 50,000 Afghan refugees to be brought to the U.S.
Volunteer opportunities and information on how to donate can be found on the JFSWC website at https://jfsannarbor.org/.