Guest post by: Karin Blum
This July I took two trips—and came back with two very different images.
One is a photo I found in boxes of memorabilia at my mother’s home in Florida. Though it’s badly in need of restoration, you can see two well-dressed women, hats and all, greeting a family of refugees. The children’s eyes are wide and fearful, and one woman is cradling a baby. The other woman, wearing a HIAS armband, smiles as she reaches out. The photo was taken in the 1950s or ‘60s, and the woman with the armband is my grandmother.
The other image is only in my head. It’s the San Antonio bus station, and a small boy is intensely coloring a dinosaur in a molded plastic seat. There’s a big backpack next to him. His father and two other grown-ups mill about, but he is concentrating and very quiet.
My grandparents and their work with immigrants were a big part of why I chose to go on the CJP FACES mission to Texas. This was my first mission with CJP, as well as the first U.S. mission for CJP. I was honored to represent JVS and be with committed volunteers and staff from other agency partners, including JFS of Metrowest, JCRC and JBBBS. To give you a sense of what the experience was like, here’s my recap of our mission.
We started off with lunch at our hotel, where we shared our own families’ immigration stories, and then heard from the first FACES recipient organization. Three staffers from the Young Center told us about their work advocating for children in immigration court. Two young women—a staff attorney and volunteer coordinator—shared client stories, some with vivid and difficult details. Their development director then gave a national overview of their work in five different states.
Soon we boarded a bus to an El Salvadoran church without air conditioning, where friendly volunteers put us to work stuffing backpacks for the Interfaith Welcome Coalition, the second funding recipient of FACES. As we assembled hygiene items, toys, blankets and more in the 100-degree heat, another mission participant and I spoke with a retired Methodist minister who was part of the group. He told us about his involvement and how their efforts had grown. Our conversation broadened, and he shared more about his viewpoints on the role of government, helping the vulnerable and more. He also added that his politics were more liberal than many of his fellow Texans.
Our understanding of the situation on the ground became more real as we visited a bus station, where several families had been dropped off and were transferring to their next stop. As we spoke with two volunteers working to assist these families, I thought of my own grandparents and their work with HIAS. That night we were hosted by the Jewish community in San Antonio, and also heard an overview of immigration over the past 30 years from the city’s immigration liaison. This was followed by text study with CJP’s Elyse Winick and the retired minister I had spoken with earlier that day.
Finally, the next morning we gathered to discuss next steps. Jeremy Burton of the JCRC updated us about immigration issues facing us back home and what still needs to be done.
Earlier this summer, JVS and CJP launched “Together We Rise: Career Development with Boston’s Refugees.” Through this program, we are reaching out to resettled refugees to help them move from entry-level jobs to family-sustaining careers. The clients at JVS are much further along in their process of acclimating to life in the United States—many come to us to learn English and prepare for their first job or to find a better job. I know that now when I’m congratulating a JVS student at their graduation, and meeting their proud family, I’ll think back to those few minutes in an over-air conditioned bus station, and how long these journeys are.