Letter from the President: A Small Garden

November 18, 2023 0 Comments

November 13, 2023

Dear CVRAN Community,

Greetings. Imagine yourself a plant in a garden. All around you other plants are growing, clustering, and the fruit and the blooms emerging, or in this season preparing for a season of hibernation. From your unique position you cannot see the borders of the garden, nor know what plant will emerge next. You cannot see what the garden looks like from outside, nor predict what it will look like in another season, or another year. All of us at CVRAN are like one of these plants. We are all a part of a garden that extends beyond what we imagine and grows in organic, and sometimes unplanned ways. Plants in this garden do grow fruit and have beautiful blooms, along with the struggles that are part of any life. The garden is noticed by passersby, and it changes the landscape. Sometimes this garden can seem big to us, but it is also very small in terms of what is needed. If only there were some way to see this little garden from above.

White Admiral Butterfly painting by Rachel Cogbill

If we could see it from above, it would be a small dot on the landscape of Vermont, an area into which there is now a stream of immigration.  One person said of her institution, “Last year we had 3 immigrants coming to our door; now we have 30.”  Head Start programs, schools, clinics, churches, food shelves are all noticing the influx of persons many of whom are from Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, and other Central and South American countries.  Politicians are noticing this issue.  Tracy Dolan, the director of the Vermont State Refugee Office who works with both the Afghan and Ukranian refugees coming into Vermont, also takes an interest in asylum seekers and urged the Vermont New Hampshire Asylum Seekers Action Network (of which CVRAN is a part) to apply for a grant to help these asylum seekers get paperwork, get trained, and enter the Vermont work force. Vermont legislators are passing laws to assist asylum seekers and others find affordable housing. The City of Montpelier awarded a grant to our Affordable Housing Committee to help procure housing for some of the refugee families wishing to stay in Montpelier. Private foundations such as The Vermont Community Loan Fund and the CANADAY Family Charitable Trust have given grants to our group.  CVRAN itself had a listening session with medical and educational service providers to hear their concerns about meeting the needs of this increasing number of immigrants, even though we do not work with all of them.  From there, we hope, advocacy of various sorts will be emerging.

So, attention, and some grants have made their way to CVRAN. What are we doing with this attention and this money? How is CVRAN meeting the needs of asylum seekers and refugees? Unlike a food shelf or Adult Basic Education we do not provide a single service to many people. Instead we use the wrap-around model, helping a much smaller set of individuals or families navigate the many steps from arrival all the way through to a work permit, and perhaps someday asylum status. It is amazing the number of steps there are to getting established, and how we have had to grow as an organization to meet the needs.

photo of bumblebees sheltering under a flower (Angela Shambaugh)
Sheltering bumblebees (Photo: Angela Shambaugh).

We now have a committee to select new guests, a committee to look at interim housing, and a committee to look at longer term affordable housing. We have teams to support the needs of each guest, developing a plan with the new arrivals that is suited to their own unique goals and needs. We average 2 ½ years of services per new Vermonter before that person is totally independent. While refugees are able to get a work permit in a more timely fashion, the asylum seekers have quite a long time before they can receive theirs – usually over a year. Meanwhile CVRAN finds housing for them, makes many medical appointments, gives transportation to appointments, English classes, and schools or training, and links them to legal help. The number of people we can serve is only limited by the housing we can find, the volunteers who will be part of a support team, and the money that we raise. As you know we are a completely volunteer group at this point, except for one part-time employee. Look around you, and see the many ways newcomers and volunteers work together, often in new ways, to create a constantly growing garden of opportunity.

Please look over our website, cvran.org, if you would like to become a member, volunteer with newcomers, join a committee, or help raise money. We always are looking especially for new host families, and soon we will also be looking for amateur or professional artists who would like to be part of our March Arts Marathon, since initial planning starts in the winter. Add your wisdom about what can be done and how to do it. Become involved and richly rewarded by new cross-cultural friendships. Be a part of this organic garden.