Eau Claire UCC member at heart of resettlement initiative

A member of a UCC congregation in Eau Claire is helping to spearhead an interfaith effort to welcome up to five Afghan families to northwest Wisconsin. 

Ginny Close of First Congregational UCC says the interfaith alliance has built an organization called Welcoming New Neighbors-NW WI Refugee Resettlement, which is seeking waiver of a federal rule to allow refugees to settle more than 100 miles from the headquarters of Milwaukee-based Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. LSS is one of six resettlement agencies operating in Wisconsin. 

“We’re building an organization as if it’s going to happen,” said Close, who is serving as the Eau Claire group’s liaison to LSS. “If you build it, they will come.” She is part of a leadership team that includes Quakers, Muslims, Lutherans and Unitarians, among others. 

One factor in the group’s favor is the region’s experience helping resettle Hmong refugees who left Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War. Although the Afghans come from a different culture, the fundamentals remain. 

“Greeting, welcoming, having a place for them to go, stocked with food and furniture, are the same,” said Eau Claire County Supervisor Don Mowry, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Eau Claire. Mowry and his family signed on with LSS to mentor a Hmong family back in 1989. The families celebrated birthdays and holidays together and remain close friends. 

Close said the Hmong community has offered a three-bedroom rental home to Welcoming New Neighbors for use by a refugee family. 

Two faculty members from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire have agreed to help translate for the new arrivals, Close said, and several students have offered to get involved, too. 

 Nearly 13,000 Afghans were housed at Fort McCoy after fleeing their home county in the aftermath of the U.S. military withdrawal. As of early this week, the number was down to about 2,000. 

“It says a lot about our community that we’re able to pull together and do this,” Mowry said. 

Is your congregation interested in helping an Afghan family resettle in Wisconsin? Email Mary Kuenning Gross, the Wisconsin Conference’s Afghan allies welcome coordinator.

Photo from Adobe stock images


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