Damakant Jayshi

Twelve Afghans arrived in Wausau on Wednesday night under a new resettlement plan, according to an official from Ethiopian Community Development Council, Inc., the national resettlement agency overseeing the program.

Four adults and eight children from two families were welcomed in the community, said Adam VanNoord, the director of Multicultural Community Center, ECDC’s local branch in Wausau.

“The families were well-received by two co-sponsorship groups that ECDC’s Wausau branch office has been working with and training over the last several weeks,” VanNoord told Wausau Pilot & Review “Although we had very short notice, we enjoyed the support of more than two dozen people who stepped into action to secure and set up apartments ahead of their arrival. We were grateful for the support from a local business, Furniture and Appliance Mart, for donating and delivering furnishings for both units with very short notice.”

VanNoord said New Beginnings for Refugees, a coalition of volunteers formed to help with the resettlement program, provided numerous household items and furnishings which had been collected over the last couple of months through in-kind donations from the community.

“Co-sponsorship groups provided initial food items, with support from the Neighbor’s Place, and prepared meals for both families which were available upon arrival to their new homes,” VanNoord said.

The arrival of the two families was first disclosed by Mayor Katie Rosenberg on Wednesday on social media.

“Tonight I had the privilege of welcoming an Afghan refugee family to Wausau,” Mayor Rosenberg wrote in a Facebook post. “The father worked directly with the US government during the war. He said he was so proud of the work he did with US and even prouder to call the United States his new home country. He is also relieved that his family will grow up in a safe community.”

Support for the newcomers in the community began even before the State Department approved the program in September.

Pastor Rebecca Voss of First United Methodist Church in Wausau has been working to engage the local community and leaders, including Mayor Rosenberg. Both of them played a key role in Wausau being selected for the resettlement program. Voss also helped set up the New Beginnings for Refugees.

“There are sponsorship groups for each family, and two sponsorship groups (from First United Methodist and First Presbyterian churches) to support this large family of 8,” Voss told Wausau Pilot & Review.

Voss said the father that the mayor referred to in her post “has a work permit and experience as a translator for the US Embassy in Kabul. He is considering getting training to start a new career as a truck driver.”

VanNoord said the children of both families are eager to attend school and continue learning the English language. He added that after the families are settled, they will “undergo an intake appointment within five days, at which point we will conduct a general skills assessment. We will support them by coordinating with local employers and identifying various employment opportunities.”

The Afghan evacuees, with refugees and parolees among them, are being resettled by ECDC under the Afghan Placement and Assistance program in partnerships with then New Beginnings for Refugees. Under pressure from the U.S. Department of State, ECDC plans to resettle a total of 75 refugees by March.

With the arrival of 12 refugees, the initial target of resettling of about 10 or so Afghans in Wausau by the end of the year has been met by ECDC. More families are expected to arrive in the next two-three weeks, said VanNoord, adding they could not offer any specific timeline or details “as things are rapidly changing.”

Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth Project that places journalists into local newsrooms. Reach him at [email protected].