More than 10 years ago Frank and Carolyn Anello became interested in working with refugees when they helped a family in their church. They saw the impact on quality of life when new refugee families were matched with local people who checked on them to be sure food and other essential needs were met and showed them how to navigate everyday life such as riding the bus, enrolling kids in school, and opening a checking account. The Anellos personally did those things—and they organized teams to give even more refugees a warm welcome.
Fast forward 10 years and Frank and Carolyn’s non-profit organization, Project Worthmore, has a large facility in northwest Aurora with six programs that serve refugees and immigrants from 26 countries. They have been so successful helping new lives flourish that people who were new arrivals a few years ago are now employed at Project Worthmore helping today’s new arrivals. “We believe in hiring people with lived experience…someone who’s been through the system, came here as a refugee, understands the ins and outs, the difficulties, and is on the other side of the story,” says Frank Anello.
Project Worthmore’s programs include navigators from similar backgrounds who help newcomers through the hurdles of life in a new culture, social connections with local people, food, a dental clinic and English classes.
Afghan Refugees Are Arriving
With Afghan refugees starting to arrive, Project Worthmore’s years of experience and range of programs offer the structure needed to provide a warm welcome for these newcomers. But this group of refugees is facing more challenges than the 1,800+ Afghan refugees who resettled in Colorado about five years ago. Those refugees already had Special Immigrant Visas that let them access government benefits to help them get started. “They came with a skill set, they had English skills—so transitioning here five years ago was difficult, but it wasn’t as difficult as now. We had a couple staff members back then from Afghanistan that were community navigators for us after only being here like six months.”
The upcoming arrivals are in “humanitarian parolee” status. They are here legally but until their visas get processed, they don’t qualify for government benefits, “So a lot of us are scrambling to try and figure out how to financially support these families as they arrive,” says Anello. “We are putting together a plan to where this existing Afghan community will be like the welcoming community for this new group of people. We have served thousands of individuals on an annual basis. My worry about this group is they have been in transition for a while. I really look forward to getting them here and trying to get them settled and comfortable.”
Resettlement agencies and other organizations have been working together closely for years, making sure that newly arrived individuals are welcomed and taken care of, says Anello.
What You Can Do
“All of these neighboring communities that sit right around Project Worthmore (Central Park, Park Hill, Lowry, Montclair) can play such an influential part in welcoming people by walking across the street to open up their homes, open up their wallets, open up their hearts to welcome these people who just want to start a new life.”
Contributions for Project Worthmore’s welcome packages can be dropped off at Project Worthmore. Items needed include hand, laundry and dish soaps, personal hygiene items (shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant), cooking oil, large bags of rice, beans and pasta, peanut butter, canned fish (not meats), a booklet of RTD passes, or a rice cooker. A donation of $25 provides a family one month of access to the food share program, $50 provides English and citizenship classes for a month, $1,000 provides a year of comprehensive services for a refugee family.
Visit ProjectWorthmore.org or call 720-460-1393 to sign up for their newsletter, donate, or see how you can help.
Front Porch photos by Christie Gosch