Beth Broadway and Marwah Alobaidi on the Campbell Conversations
Since last fall, Syracuse has begun to receive and resettle refugees from Afghanistan, and might now expect to do the same for Ukrainian refugees. On this week's episode of the Campbell Conversations, Grant Reeher speaks with Beth Broadway and Marwah Alobaidi of Interfaith Works of Central New York, an organization that is leading the effort to resettle refugees to the region.
Grant Reeher: Welcome to the Campbell Conversations. I'm Grant Reeher. Since last fall, Syracuse has begun to receive and resettle refugees from Afghanistan and might now expect to do the same for Ukrainian refugees. One of the principal organizations that lead those efforts is Interfaith Works of CNY. My guest this week on the Campbell Conversations are Beth Broadway, president of Interfaith, and Marwah Alobaidi, the director of Resettlement Services and Interfaith Center for New Americans. Beth, Marwah, welcome to the program.
Beth Broadway: Thank you Grant.
Marwah Alobaidi: Thank you.
GR: So let's start by giving our listeners a brief context on your organization and its recent history. And Beth, these first few questions will probably be more directed to you and then we'll bring Marwah more directly into the conversation. But first, Beth, what is Interfaith’s central mission? What do you do and in what ways do you do it?
BB: So Interfaith Works was founded here in 1976 by civic and faith leaders in the wake of the civil rights movement. And so our goal has always been to end racism and to build racial justice, to build understanding among different faith communities and to affirm the dignity of all people, and to build out programs that allow us to do all of that. And the way it has manifested is in three particular program areas. One, which is our dialog center, which is working on ending racism and taking action in the community on issues related to racism, as well as to have a robust group of faith partners who are meeting together across the various divides in our religious communities. Secondly, we have a very large program which is dedicated to the needs of socially isolated elders, whether they're aging at home or they're in nursing homes, or they've been affected by the digital divide. We've grown from having serving 200 people a week to serving about 800 people a week and expanding the footprint up into Oswego and several other contiguous counties to do that work. And then finally, I think what we're going to talk most about today is our refugee resettlement work. And we have a large program to settle refugees, as well as a program to serve the needs of refugees, to get them through to citizenship, that next job, you know, the supports for them as they are here.
GR: Okay, great. Thank you for that. Well, and then and then related to tell me where you're funding, give me a brief breakdown of where your funding comes from.
BB: Well, most of the refugee funding comes from government, whether that comes from the US government funneled directly to us through the Episcopal Migration Ministries, which is our national affiliate, or whether that funding comes through the county in this form of assistance directly to clients with Section Eight, housing, food stamps, etc. For the refugee programs, that money comes from the federal government to the counties where there will be refugee resettlement and it allows the counties to be supportive. And we have found our county and our city to be very supportive of this. We also receive some funding from city government for things such as emergency food and shelter, to help with homelessness prevention and to help with mental health issues for refugees. We also have a very large donor base. We have over 500 donors to the agency who are helping us to keep things going in all departments and across our administration. We have many very successful grants with foundations here locally, and we just completed a national grant with the New York City-based Hearst Foundations and the Robert J. Wood Foundation. So it's a mix of funding that comes from many different streams that makes it possible for us to do our work.
GR: Now, I've read that your organization did have some tough times beginning in 2017 because of some policy changes that were made by the Trump administration, among other things. So tell me about that and then and then how you have rebounded from those challenges.
BB: Well, it's been quite a story of how that has happened. We saw the handwriting on the wall pretty early in the country's decision to hire Donald Trump as our president. And so we are very much buffeted by the winds of whatever happens with it, with foreign policy and with what happens domestically. So we were now in the situation with a president who was openly saying he was going to dismantle the refugee program, and he was very successful at dismantling a good portion of it. And there's been a big rebuild process over these years. So what Interfaith Works had to do was to ask itself, how do we continue to serve refugees when our government will not be bringing them here? Because there's no way that people get here without government options. And so whether they're coming as political asylees, as special immigrants, because they've served the US military or as they come through the United Nations to our nation, because of our cooperation. So that can all change. And it did all change very quickly in 2017 and we had to make a whole new strategic plan that would allow us to move from serving in the as a nation, we were serving almost 100,000 refugees to less than 15,000 for the whole nation. So you can see the scale of the change that happened for us and for the refugee programs across the country. When we saw that handwriting on the wall, we had to really act fast. And I, I thought about us as being very nimble and building new muscles. So that was really what happened for us as we and we also created a legacy statement, which we feel is very, very important, that even though we are buffeted and it does have very strong implications for what our budget looks like from year to year. Our board and our staff made a strong legacy statement, which people can see on our website saying that even if this happens, we will never stop being supporters of refugees. We accept the responsibility of the ups and downs of this. You can imagine after 9/11, the refugee program completely shut down for months and months and months. And the same thing has been happening in the from 2017 on through the election of Joe Biden. So we just said that we will never stop doing this. We are going to continue to find ways through the cracks to do the work. The big shift that we made in refugee resettlement was to build out a whole set of programs that serve the post-resettlement needs of refugees. People need to get their second job. They need to get an opportunity to study for and get their citizenship. There's a huge immigration policy practice that they have to undertake once they have been here a couple of years, they have to file all of their immigration papers. So we could we built out legal services and immigration services for them. After you've been resettled and kind of gotten the dust settled and you've gotten your first job and you've learned English or are learning English, you are getting your kids registered for school. You're finding your new community and your new home. A lot of the mental health issues start to arise after those first couple of years. You know, many of the people who come have suffered terribly. They have been in the midst of violence. They've lost family members. They have had trauma and terrible things happen to them. The worst that we can do to each other as humans. And so during those next couple of years after they first arrived, they really need supportive services. A place to go for Family Wellness, a place to go for mental health supports, a place to go when they've gone from having that first job, that doesn't really quite provide enough income to a second job. We want to be here for refugees, both as they first arrived and in that very, very difficult period of transition into becoming citizens. And that's what Interfaith Works did. We got really savvy about new programming. We got really smart about talking much more with our legislators and building the public will for positive feelings towards immigrants and refugees.
GR: Well, Marwah, let me bring you into the conversation here and sort of take us to the next step in the recent history of the organization and talk just a minute about COVID, because I'm very curious to hear how COVID affected the work of the organization. I imagine that it had a double edge to it in that on the one hand, some of the things Beth been talking about, my understanding was it was a vehicle for getting some more funding because we you know, we had the stimulus funding and some of that was directed to these kinds of services. But it also made, I imagine it made the work with the refugees a lot more, the actual work a lot more difficult. If you could tell us a little bit about that, I'd be very curious to hear that.
MA: Yeah, thank you, Grant. Yeah. So when COVID hit us and hit the community, it was we've pivoted all that team on how to support all the refugees here, like within the community with this huge impact. So we've tried to be very creative and find many ways to support them where we were able to secure many funds to help them with the technology needs. The technology divide was really like huge for families, especially who does not, families who have language barriers, so they have kids that they have to learn remotely. So we were able to help them during that time, how to support them to access this technology and help their children to do homework remotely. So we've been able to pivot some staff who worked with these families on the technology need, who provided them with technology lessons, who were able to navigate with them, how they can teach their children, how to access these remote classrooms. And the teams were at work. We also had some staff people who worked with them on how to access like to provide them with laptops and the smart devices. And also like in the term of the families who needed help with access to COVID scheduling, we've been able to provide all of this inside of providing one of the programs that we have with the mental health and wellness is the diaper distribution. So we were able to provide door-to-door diaper distribution, food for people who are in quarantine. Education for one of the clients who are working with employers and they needed some help with the clarification of COVID and like, they needed to access some scheduling for COVID appointments and some clarification for the quarantine. So the team has pivoted in many ways to help these people, especially for businesses who closed during COVID and these clients end up without a source of income. So the employment team worked very hard to support them while to support them with the claim for unemployment benefits, support them to find a new job. So in many, many ways. In many, many ways.
BB: And I would like to just jump in for a second. Sure. Big shout out to Syracuse community. This wider CNY community. So we were shamelessly asking for help anywhere we could to get technology to people. And right about that time, many, many Americans got their stimulus checks. So we shamelessly asked the community to give us some or all of their stimulus checks, and we would turn that into a computer for a refugee family or for a frail elder who did not have any way to order groceries or talk to their children, leave their home. And this community was wonderful. Many people gave us part or all of their stimulus checks. And we bought computers for as many people as we possibly could. So shout out to central New York for that.
GR: That's a great story. Thanks. You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher and I'm talking with Beth Broadway, the president of Interfaith Works of CNY, and Marwah Alobaidi, the director of Resettlement Services and Interfaith Center for New Americans. And we've been discussing the organization's recent history and also its current work with resettling refugees. So, Beth, I come back to you. You were in the news a lot after our, this country's final military exit from Afghanistan regarding the resettlement of the Afghan refugees that were coming into the country. Can you first of all, can you tell me, how do you know how many refugees ultimately came to Syracuse from Afghanistan?
BB: Well, by the time we're finished, we're in the middle of phase two. The whole community among all three of the resettlement efforts will have settled 1000 people from Afghanistan. So it represents a wide array of people, people who were young and single came on their own or a young couple. We've had a lot of brothers and sisters come, as well as large families come. So large and small families. So about a thousand people will have come by the time, through us, through Catholic Charities and through RISE. So we’ve each taken a share of people and help them get their life started.
GR: And Marwah, how has that resettlement process been going for the Afghan refugees? What are some of the greatest challenges that they in particular have faced?
MA: Yeah. Thank you, Grant. So with the resettlement of Afghans, it's been really like in the beginning was really challenging because what's those people have suffered. What's happened in Afghanistan is what we have seen different with the regular refugee processing is people were able, the regular refugee processing and we've been seeing like previously, people were able to process what happened to them when they left their country and left to a third country. They had the time to process their loss. They had time to process what happened. With what happened in Afghanistan people had lost everything in one night. They lost their jobs. They lost their home. They lost their families. And they ended up here. So there is we've seen lots of trauma, lots of medical, so needs. So people have suffered. So the challenging is when people have arrived here, like they really suffered from what they have been going through in their country. The other thing we've seen is many of those people have worked with the military, the U.S. government, and they have strong backgrounds, they have strong credentials and high skills of English language. So they are really looking very hard to work in the same field and in the same background that they have came through. We've been doing many, many orientations and with them through their community, community partners and here internally to just try to ease what happened to them and to ease like things will come step by step. So you may going to have a simple job in the beginning, but you will end up like eventually with what you have worked before. So these are really the main two things that we’ve seen. Many, many people who really came with really like good credentials that may qualify them to be really having a good future here.
GR: Okay. And I was wondering, is there one story of either an individual or a family from that group that sticks with you more than any others that you can relay briefly to us?
MA: Honestly, the first young sibling that we received. So the conversation about the new initiatives for the APA program started early August. And we've been with many, many conversations with our national affiliates who were in close contact with the State Department. And we've been waiting and waiting until we heard about we got our first case and September 24th. So that was our moment for all of us. When we went all the case management team, most of IFW staff went to the airport to welcome them. And when we saw them, we it was very emotional moment for all of us. They were young siblings. They that case, that moment really stuck to my mind when we really welcomed like the first young siblings and they've been now like outside, like they've been here like almost five months. And we've been really like still working with them very closely and is trying to help them to bring their parents here.
BB: I just have to say one quick thing, that when we got the paperwork on this couple that we were told they were a married couple, so we set up an apartment for them, which is one of the things we do when people arrive, their apartment is ready, it's furnished. It's got everything it needs. We took them to the apartment and there's course one bed that has a nice new quilt on it and made cozy. Well, they, you know, they're like, well, we're sister and brother. We're not married. And of course, we were like, Oh my gosh. So we had to rush around and get a second bed. So, you know, it's 11:00 at night. We ran to the warehouse and got a second set of beds. And just it was very funny, actually. It was very funny, but it turned out to be a great story.
MA: Yeah, it was really like that. That initiative came very quickly and we've been like receiving initial sketchy information about families where we have to make our internal database until the government they're able to come with like a database system for us. So that's what we faced initially with the young siblings.
GR: Now, Beth, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is, of course, dominating the news. And we've read that it is generating a flood of refugees. Last check, well over half a million and growing. And I would think that that many of these folks at some point I mean, they're going into Europe, Eastern Europe, but they'll try to come to the U.S. and that Syracuse might be a good location for them, given the Ukrainian community in particular that already exists here. So I'm just wondering, is your organization having discussions about this and making it making any plans?
BB: We will. You know, the first thing that refugees want to do is go home. They don't want to leave Europe. They don't want to leave. They don't want to leave Ukraine. They want to go home. You know, that's where their lives have been and families are there, the generations are there, their land, everything. So what refugees have to decide at that moment is, am I going to wait this out and see what happens or am I going to apply to the United Nations or to get me someplace else because I feel I will never be able to go home. So that's a big deal for people to make that decision. And they come under the care of the United Nations. If they do decide that they really need to be sheltered somewhere else, that they won't be going home, or that they need a temporary place to stay. And I'm watching what particularly what Poland has done of opening its borders and setting up shelter for people, which is very laudable. But, yes, we have settled Ukrainians right along who have fled from there for political reasons. And because of the terrorism and violence over many years. And now we do expect that in some period of time there will be an opening of the doors. Generally, people who achieve refugee status do so through the United Nations. During this latest arrival set of arrivals from Afghanistan, they came on a new program that was specially created for them because of the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis and because of the United States' role in actually creating that crisis by pulling out. And the US felt a responsibility and acted on that responsibly to help people come quickly and not having to go under the UN's protection. But what, because we have not been in a military situation ourselves in Ukraine, it would take the Congress and the President to make a decision to bring people here directly and to bypass the United Nations. I don't know whether they will do that. I seriously doubt that they will. I think they will involve the United Nations in this particular situation. So it could be years before we start to see any large numbers, if that's the case. But that's you know, we we always say this to ourselves, Grant, that if you're seeing terrorism activity at high levels within countries, we will know that within a couple of years, Interfaith Works will be serving that population, because that's just the nature of the end of war or the end of or the violence that occurs across the world.
GR: We've only got about 3 minutes left, but I want to try to squeeze in three questions, if I can, so we'll be quicker on these. This first one, though, is about, again, about Ukraine. And it's to either of you, it's a little it might seem a little strange, but, you know, you obviously know the immigrant communities in Syracuse far better than I do. But my impression is that the communities, the Ukrainian and Russian communities in Syracuse are a mix. And they you know, they're they kind of see themselves as being part of the same larger community. At least that's my sense from going to a couple of Ukrainian shops. And I just wonder whether this conflict might create a tension here that wasn't there before. Do you have any quick, quick thoughts about that?
BB: We do have a member of our staff who learned Russian as her first language. She is part of the Russian community here. We just talked about this yesterday with her. And my sense of it is, is that the longer people have been distant from living in either the Ukraine or Russia, the more they feel themselves to be American. So they're Russian American or Ukrainian American. But it isn't unusual for there to be what are tribal conflicts. People initially get here, they're grateful to be in a safe place, to be starting their life over. But later, the tribal differences or the ethnic differences do arise out of that. For people coming out of the Ukrainian situation, many, many countries have broken down with the fall of the USSR. And so the divisions and we're in that period right now as a human family and at this period of history as a result of that, and it's unknown what will happen with whether there will be a split there. I don't know, Marwah, if you have other thoughts.
MA: Yeah, I would agree with you Beth. Yeah, I, it's we hope it's not, but we, we, we are only looking forward, like to see what's going to happen in two years.
GR: Well, I've got to I've got a quick fun question for Marwah here. I think that some of the food stalls in the Salt City Market are either owned or staffed by some refugees. I think that's correct. What I just want to ask you, what's your personal favorite at the Salt City Market, if you if you've eaten there, what's your personal favorite place to go?
MA: So Grant, I am originally from Baghdad, Iraq, and in Salt City Market there is Baghdad restaurants. So I would definitely go with the Baghdad restaurant.
GR: Okay, fair enough. That's what, speaking of tribal loyalties.
MA: I love all the food in Salt City Markets.
GR: And then the last thing I wanted to make sure I asked, I guess, Beth, you might be the best person for this, but with just a few seconds we have left, if someone listening to this program wants to get involved in your work, either as a volunteer or maybe they want to contribute financially to the good work that you're doing, where should they go?
BB: They can go directly to our website www.interfaithworkscny.org. And there's a donate button and there's also a link for how people can volunteer. They can click on the “I want to volunteer button” and we will get back to them.
GR: Okay, great. We'll have to leave it there. That was Beth Broadway and Marwah Alobaidi. I want to thank you, first of all, for taking the time to talk with me. Secondly, I want to thank you and wish you good luck for your very, very important work.
BB: Thank you, Grant. We were very proud to be here with you. Thank you.
GR: You've been listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, Conversations in the Public Interest.