State Dept.’s new Welcome Corps creates additional pathway for Hearts and Homes to offer its experience aiding refugees

When the new Welcome Corps was created by the U.S. State Department, it opened up a pathway for experienced organizations like Pelham-based Hearts and Homes for Refugees to teach private citizens how to sponsor refugee families.

The program, which allows for the private sponsorship of refugees, will allow HHR to leverage its seven years of experience in community mobilization by engaging and training individuals as part of volunteer groups.

According to HHR, the new approach “instead of bolstering government infrastructure, turns to the non-profit resettlement infrastructure developed over the past several years.”

Hearts and Homes Founder and President Kathie O’Callaghan learned about what’s called the community-sponsorship model, first used in Connecticut by an organization called IRIS, and went on to adopt it, with the goal to recruit more volunteers, introduce them to the newer structure, train them and mentor them.

“Hearts and Homes is a founding member of the Hello Neighbor Network,” said O’Callaghan. The network consists of private citizen-sponsorship organizations that came together from across the country to help refugees settle into a new life.

“If you give people organized roles, you can shift the paradigm of resettled refugees,” O’Callaghan said. “We will be able to assist any group that is doing (resettlement) on their own through Welcome Corps. With our experience, network… practices and resources, those who apply to the Welcome Corps program can tap into HHR for support.”

With the increased interest likely to come to HHR because of the Welcome Corps, the nonprofit will be able to organize groups of volunteers and help educate and prepare them. Among the things volunteers do are welcome refugees at the airport, aid them in finding housing and setting up apartments as well as assist families in enrolling in schools and healthcare programs, learn English, find a job and connect to the community.

There is already increased volunteer interest in the Pelham community. HHR is working with a group from the Pelham Jewish Center that is applying to be a part of the Welcome Corps.

HHR has “been partnering with them in their application and the required Welcome Plan,” said O’Callaghan. The organization will provide PJC with mentoring and guidance.

“This is not so different from what we have been doing with volunteer teams that are resettling refugees,” she said. “Welcome Corps will have their own guidelines and reporting requirements,” but HHR has been able to apply its expertise already with the new program.

Those interested in volunteering for Hearts and Homes can fill out the form on their website here.