Good Neighbors of Capitol Hill Find Common Ground with Refugees

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A large van purchased with the help of the Koster Foundation provides ample space for furniture donations.

A few hardy volunteers, including both older and younger members of several Capitol Hill faith communities, pull up to a Capitol Hill townhouse, masked and socially distanced in separate vehicles, one of which is a large repurposed 15-passenger van. They ascend the front stairs and with the owner’s help, load up a table and chairs, dressers and bed frames to be used to furnish apartments for refugees arriving soon in the Metro DC area.

The effort is part of the ongoing work of Good Neighbors Capitol Hill (GNCH), a coalition of more than ten congregations and community members who have been working together since 2016 to welcome the area’s newest neighbors.

The multi-faith group includes Methodist, Episcopalian, Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Jewish and Mormon congregations, among others. The recent refugees arriving in the DC metro area have been primarily Afghan families of translators and other special immigrant visa holders who have assisted the U.S. military in Afghanistan. But others have come from countries like El Salvador, from which they fled war and persecution.

“It’s rewarding work,” says Dale Manty, who leads the furnishing efforts, “not only because it helps resettle refugees who arrive with nothing more than luggage, but also because it helps our Capitol Hill and nearby Maryland neighbors who are moving, remodeling, or even mourning a lost family member, to move along furnishings that can be useful to others. It also feels great to build friendships and find common purpose across faith communities and geographic boundaries.”

The large van is new to this work, having been purchased this past summer with the help of a $10,000 grant from the Marinus and Minna Koster Foundation to replace a 24-year-old van belonging to Lutheran Church of the Reformation.

Although fewer refugees have been arriving, especially since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, several new families continue to come each month, and those already here continue to need assistance. Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSSNCA) works with GNCH and other groups to resettle these families in their new homes, as well as assist families who continue to need support.

As part of their Good Neighbor Partners (GNP) program, the agency enlists groups, congregations, and individuals to serve as good neighbors at several possible levels—from simply furnishing apartments, to helping a new family adjust, practice English, and navigate their new community. Currently, LSSNCA is coordinating a coat drive for new arrivals. The agency also works with congregations and organizations to assist local community members in need of food, transportation, job training and more.

Help Takes Many Forms
In addition to furnishing apartments, Good Neighbors Capitol Hill has assisted with many needs over the past four years. For example, the group helped a young woman who had been banned from education in Afghanistan to graduate from high school, enroll in community college, and take exams that will enable her to enroll in a four-year college in the near future. The group has also tutored more than 25 new arrivals, especially women, in English; provided children with school supplies and support with the mechanics of enrolling, assisted families in accessing services including obtaining needed documents and driver’s licenses, provided tangible and emotional support during medical and dental challenges, and helped clients and families move toward goals of self-sufficiency in areas of housing and job assistance.

At the beginning of the pandemic, GNCH was less available to provide direct service, especially as many of the core volunteers were in the more vulnerable, over-65 category. Instead, the furnishings crew continued to make space available for donated furnishings where they could be picked up in the van and transported to apartments by LSSNCA volunteers.

More recently, younger Good Neighbors volunteers and several more established refugees have been stepping up to assist with moving furniture and furnishing apartments. Currently, GNCH is preparing to help resettle its 51st family. Since March, Good Neighbors has also provided gift cards to 40 refugee families and funded computers needed especially for applications, telework, and virtual classes by families with a number of school-age children.

Good Neighbors of Capitol Hill welcomes donations of furnishings and funds and encourages volunteers, especially young people interested in helping furnish refugee apartments. Visit the Good Neighbors Capitol Hill at www.goodneighborscapitolhill.org.

You can contribute to the effort to help refugees with a check, a one-time online donation or an ongoing contribution through the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, the financial agent for the work. Link to the online donation portal through the GNCH website or visit www.reformationdc.org and designate gifts for “Refugee resettlement.”  Or make checks payable to Lutheran Church of the Reformation (address: 212 E. Capitol Street, N.E, Washington, DC 20003) and note “Refugee resettlement” in the notation line.