Refugee home prepared with love by volunteers

January 17, 2022

Afghan refugee family’s new home in Portsmouth prepared with love by volunteers

January 17, 2022 Seacoast online: Ian Lenahan, Portsmouth Herald

PORTSMOUTH — Two fuzzy stuffed animals — a monkey with a red cap and a dog — sit nuzzled together in a box inside the two-story rectory beside Christ Episcopal Church.

The toys, among a host of other donated goods and household needs, are awaiting the arrival of their new owners — a family of six Afghan refugees resettling in Portsmouth this month. 

Sudie Blanchard, left, and Charlotte Ramsay, both from Durham, are co-organizers of the volunteer efforts through the Ascentria Care Alliance, a social services organization that is working to resettle Afghan refugees in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. They are seen Friday, Jan. 14, 2022 in a Portsmouth church rectory where the family will live.

Volunteers from numerous faith communities across the Seacoast were abuzz preparing the refugees’ new home Friday morning. The space will host the first family from Afghanistan to resettle in the Seacoast following the fall of the country to Taliban fighters last summer, according to organizers.

“I guess I feel like I have received more from this than I could possibly give,” said Charlotte Ramsay, a co-organizer of the efforts to welcome the family.

Via the Worcester, Massachusetts-based Ascentria Care Alliance, a social services organization leading the charge in resettling Afghan refugees throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire, a team of volunteers are preparing the unused rectory for the refugees’ move into the home at some point this week. 

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The family of six has four children — two girls and two boys — ranging from 2 to 11 years old. It’s unknown where the family lived in Afghanistan or which U.S. military base has been their home as they await coming to Portsmouth. The four-bedroom, two-bathroom rectory was built in 1960 and spans 2,017 square feet, according to city records.

Donations to the family include a kitchen table, toys for the children, new mattresses and a trundle bed. Co-organizer Sudie Blanchard said the biggest donation has people giving time and energy toward ensuring the family is comfortable with their new life in America. 

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Having begun working on the project in the late fall, the Seacoast Neighborhood Support Team is a coalition of parishioners from churches across the area, including Strafford County. Local Rotary Club and Portsmouth’s VFW Post 168 members are helping, too.

Volunteers from various churches in the Seacoast area prepare a church rectory to be a home for Afghan refugees Friday, Jan. 14, 2022.

“The way I live is being welcoming of immigrants. That’s important in my heart is welcoming strangers,” Blanchard said. 

The project will cost about $25,000, organizers said. Once the family moves in, volunteers will help the family learn about the area. Volunteers will also help them enroll in English as a second language courses, provide them with an Afghan immigrant who lives in Portsmouth to serve as an interpreter, go shopping with them, show them the local public transportation options and help them browse job opportunities.

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Ramsay said the hope is that the family will be able to live independently within a year.

Just this week, the lease was signed with the Christ Episcopal Church, chosen because the parish’s priest isn’t using the rectory and the rent will be below market rate. Rent is being taken care of via the money that’s been raised for the project, just under $13,000 so far. 

Charlotte Ramsay, left, and Sudie Blanchard, both from Durham, are co-organizers of the volunteer efforts through the Ascentria Care Alliance, a social services organization that is working to resettle Afghan refugees in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. They are seen Friday, Jan. 14, 2022 in a Portsmouth church rectory where the family will live.

Katie Clark, director of communications with the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire, said the volunteer project mirrors the message of the church’s Book of Common Prayer. 

“Supporting a refugee family is deeply mission-focused and aligned with the baptismal covenant of the Episcopal Church, in which we pledge ‘to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves,’ and to ‘respect the dignity of every human being,’” she wrote in an email.

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Portsmouth resident Patmana Refiq Kunary emigrated from Afghanistan to Keene in November 2016. She and another immigrant did not receive help through Ascentria or other similar immigrant services. The assimilation, without professional help, was not easy, she said, explaining she felt alone while she adjusted to life in the United States. 

“That’s why I wanted to help this family,” said Kunary, who will be the family’s interpreter.

Kunary said she felt excited hearing another Afghan family was moving to the city, offering her services immediately through Ascentria. She plans to take her children over for play dates with the refugee children and show the family stores, how to purchase cheaper goods, playgrounds and how to ride on the public bus routes.

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“These are things which really matter when you go somewhere new,” she added.  

Stuffed animals rest in a box along with other items waiting to be set up in a home where a family of Afghan refugees will live in Portsmouth.

On Friday, volunteers were vacuuming and placing furniture in the rectory the family will call home. Standing near the doorway of the family room were volunteers Carole Renselaer and Annie Rainboth. 

“I think it’s what we’re called to do, to help each other out,” Renselaer said of the volunteer efforts. “It’s just a situation that we never imagined. It’s not like helping somebody just in our church or in our neighborhood or something. We’re all in this together.”

Rainboth agreed, noting anyone can lend a helping hand by picking up a broom to sweep the home or carry in donated items. “We are all in this together and this is a way to put that into action.”

How to help

Financial contributions to the family of Afghan refugees are still being accepted.

Checks can be written to the Ascentria Care Alliance with “Team Seacoast” in the memo line. Those can be mailed to: Ascentria Care Alliance (attn: Lesli Cashin) at 11 Shattuck Street, Worcester, Massachusetts, 01605.

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