A few weeks ago, our leadership team spent two days reflecting on the past year and developing next year’s strategies and plans. The retreat center was set back in the woods, at the end of winding, tree-lined roads, and as we approached, many of us texted each other nervously, “Am I in the right place?”
Unchartered territory has been a constant for LSSNCA this past year, starting with the fall of Kabul which accelerated the U.S. Government’s evacuation of Afghan Allies. Rebuilding our infrastructure to respond to 500 people a month after serving 500 people a year was an extraordinary operational challenge that required strengthening processes and procedures along the way and growing our team from 65 last July to more than 200 today. As our community faced the largest resettlement of refugees in recent history, people began showing up at our offices in record numbers—most, with the same clothing they had been wearing since they left Afghanistan, some, having traveled for weeks, many, not having showered or eaten a proper meal since they left their homeland. At that time, there was no federal program to serve them, and they were not eligible for public benefits until October 2021.
With your support, LSSNCA served more than 4,500 Afghan Allies over the past year, in addition to refugees and asylum-seekers from around the world, including Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, and Ukraine. I’m grateful for you believing in us and in our mission, and for showing up to support those we serve even when we were in unchartered territory, and we were figuring it all out together.
This past year we’ve expanded our impact in all program areas. We now have in-house immigration attorneys who are assisting our Afghan Allies with asylum applications. We’ve grown our Workforce Development programs to further assist our new neighbors with preparing for and finding employment. We hosted weekly mental health support groups for recently resettled women. We are supporting Ukrainians as they resettle with local sponsors. We’ve reorganized our community engagement work and added positions to help us improve our outreach and engagement with community partners.
Through all of this, I’m grateful for you, our integral community partners for supporting our new neighbors as they celebrate birthdays and holidays, accompanying them to back
This phase of integration brings with it different challenges and needs. What we know from trauma theory is that the impact of the crisis remains in the bodies of those who experienced it directly as well as those who are exposed to the crisis long after the crisis ends. This often shows up in a myriad of feelings and behaviors to include hypervigilance, exhaustion, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and depression. These feelings are felt even more acutely with those we serve, who are also adapting to the challenges of American life while mourning what once was, and all that was left behind. There’s catharsis in coming together as a community to recognize and acknowledge these emotions and provide the space to share fears, anxieties, and hopes and dreams. In partnership, we’re all patching together pieces of new homes, community, and outlooks on the future.
Building meaningful community relationships is integral to healing. This is why I’m excited to announce LSSNCA’s launch of a client Resource Center opening soon in Alexandria which will serve as a hub for our growing community, hosting ESL classes and cultural orientation, and being a distribution center for in-kind donations. We’re looking forward to sharing more about that in the coming months!
This month, we are preparing to launch our Transitional Foster Care (TFC) program providing safe, appropriate, and child-friendly placements with short-term foster parents to unaccompanied children. In FY21, the U.S. government served 122,731 unaccompanied children seeking asylum and other forms of humanitarian relief through their subcontracted, community-based child placing agencies. We’re always looking for more foster parents in Virginia, especially in Spanish-speaking communities as the majority of children are from Central America. If you are interested, sign up here. And, just in time for National Adoption Month, we’re also refreshing our Adoptions program, including announcing our new director who is a licensed clinical social worker. We’re revitalizing and expanding our services over the next year with plans to become a full-service adoption agency in the future. Take a look.
As the season unfolds, there are so many ways to contribute, whether it’s participating in our Coat Drive, helping us meet our fundraising goal on Giving Tuesday (stay tuned on November 29!), or welcoming unaccompanied children in our TFC program with Bundles of Cheer kits filled with personal keepsake items to rebuild their safe spaces. The other gift we can give each other is the gift of empathy and rest – whether it’s your listening ear, nonjudgmental space, or acts of service to allow our new neighbors – and yourselves – time to rest.
We’re looking forward to all that’s on the horizon, and we couldn’t do it without you. Thank you for joining us on this journey and creating a supportive community and welcoming space for our new neighbors.