Center left to right: Erica Wallstrom, Madison Akin and Bex Akin in September
A family of Syrian refugees arrived in Rutland on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. Another family is expected to make it to the city on Thursday evening, said Stacie Blake, the USCRI’s director of government and community relations.
The newcomers will live with host families for “just a few days” before they move into their own apartments, Blake said. Such an arrangement is “not unusual when you’re staying at a new resettlement site.” It acts as a “way to help the first families get on their feet,” she explained.
Mayor Chris Louras, who put his political career on the line by proposing Rutland as a resettlement site, said he learned that the first family would arrive just hours before they showed up.
His first words to his city’s newest inhabitants? “I’m so happy and delighted to have you as our new neighbors,” Louras recalled.
“They are clearly destined to be wonderful members of this community,” he told Seven Days.
Louras, though careful not to divulge too much information about the family, revealed that the mother has a degree in French literature and is an author. The father, Louras said, speaks “rudimentary English” and insisted on not using an interpreter. That, Louras said, demonstrated the Syrian man’s “drive to be successful.”
Little else is known about the family and it’s unclear if children are among the newly settled. But New American youngsters generally “are anxious to learn English, anxious to make friends,” Blake said. Before they can enroll in schools, children undergo a physical exam, which is mandatory for all newly arrived refugees. Even before leaving for the U.S., refugees undergo a medical exam.
The first priority for providers and volunteers is to learn what the families need. The Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, the USCRI’s local field office, will “work with local programs to build their [language] capacity,” Blake said. Some service providers in Chittenden County have bilingual staffers. Such a model could be adopted in Rutland, Blake said. Arabic interpreters in the area have volunteered their help.
Among them is the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, which provides interpretation and translation services. The group is looking to expand its services in southern Vermont, said Jacob Bogre, the organization’s executive director. In addition to a demand for Arabic interpreters, the nonprofit has received requests for Spanish and French speakers in Rutland, he added.
Although AALV, which provides services for refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers, doesn’t plan to build a satellite office in Rutland, it’s “looking for ways to be closer to the community,” Bogre said. The Syrian population has a reputation for being well-educated, and Bogre said he hopes there will be opportunities for the newcomers to utilize their expertise and skills.
Another person ready to help is Rebecca Day from Rutland Mental Health Services. Day, a licensed clinical social worker who has experience working with resettled populations, has provided trainings for health providers and educators in Rutland.
Day acknowledged that newcomers are usually “inundated” as they adjust to their new homes. “Mental health stuff gets pushed to the back,” she said. But she hopes newcomers who are having a “difficult time adjusting” will be referred through the school system and VRRP.