CWS Harrisonburg expands programs after a year of great refugee need

Published: Nov. 23, 2022 at 8:09 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - With the war in Ukraine raging on, an estimated 7.5 million Ukrainians have been displaced. Over the last year, Church World Service Harrisonburg has helped 166 Ukrainians resettle in the Shenandoah Valley.

“We’ve actually helped them by matching them with English tutors, and we’ve gotten some of them enrolled in some of our extended services. We have a healthcare careers pathway program and we’ve gotten some folks involved in that. We’ve gotten all school-aged children enrolled in public school and then about 70 percent of adults are in English classes,” said Emily Bender, Development and Communications Coordinator for CWS Harrisonburg.

CWS has a Ukrainian-speaking caseworker who has worked to connect Ukrainian refugees with the organization, but that has been a little more difficult because Ukrainians are entering the U.S. through humanitarian parole, which is a different pathway than most refugees. It is a temporary legal status that lasts two years.

“We’re actually trying to do some outreach right now because there may be other people who are not yet connected with our office that are eligible for our services, so we’d love to get the word out there that we are able to help people with this humanitarian parole status,” said Bender.

It’s been a busy year for CWS. The organization has grown its staff by 170% since last year and has added several new programs.

“Helping with employment and English, and coding classes for girls, and lots of youth programs, and we’re working on some mental health and wellness programs. The healthcare careers pathway program, that’s something that we’re really proud of. Our advocacy team has also been lobbying at the state level to pass a bill to remove obstacles to workforce participation for immigrants and refugees,” said Bender.

CWS has also joined a national program aimed at assisting unaccompanied children who are seeking refuge in the United States, the majority of whom come from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Other programs CWS operates include Services to Older Refugees, a Youth mentorship program, a substance abuse prevention program, and a domestic violence prevention program.

The organization also opened a sub-office in Winchester which has already helped resettle 101 refugees, including 70 from Afghanistan.

“We know that the Shenandoah Valley is a place of welcome and hospitality but it does take all of us working together because the resettlement system is still vulnerable, that’s just the reality of the situation,” said Bender.

Bender thanked the community for all it does to support CWS both financially and through volunteer work. She said the global need for refugee resettlement is significant.

“The vast majority of refugees worldwide are not going to be resettled. So as these displacement figures grow we’re looking at more and more people who are in pretty desperate situations and who have not been able to find a place of safety. So we’re really proud of our programs and we’re happy when people are able to make it to the U.S.,” she said.

CWS has welcomed 356 new arrivals in the last year compared to just 50 in the previous year. It says the global number of displaced people is now 103 million, up from 84 million last year.