“We are very proud of them,” says Sue Rummel, of the Afghan family who came to America to start a new life in New London. “It cannot be easy to come here in humanitarian or refugee circumstances,” she added.
In a recent interview with the StartFresh Volunteer Coordinator, Rummel said the Afghan family of four (father, mother and their two children) had moved into the apartment prepared for them and started functioning ” as Americans, while retaining their own culture. “
Rummel recounted the stages of their journey from Afghanistan to New London. They boarded one of the huge cargo planes at Kabul airport in August. The next stop was Kuwait. From there, a three-day flight to a military base in Virginia preceded their trip to New London, where StartFresh workers were waiting to take them to their new home.
StartFresh is a non-profit organization, created and managed by volunteers, whose aim is to resettle refugees and other displaced people, providing them with what they need to start a new life in the New London area.
Since 2016, StartFresh has hosted six refugee families (for a total of 31 people) in New London. There are three from Syria, two from Sudan and one from Afghanistan. StartFresh has co-sponsored refugees and evacuees (both groups must leave their home countries because of the dangers of staying there) with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven.
“We believe that all refugees and displaced people can embrace who they are, can define their future and can change the world,” is the credo expressed on the StartFresh website.
Rummel spoke about the various teams of StartFresh volunteers who work hard to get refugees and evacuees to settle. Volunteers rented and furnished apartments, set up a pantry with food, and then helped families with their groceries. In addition, they provided a wide range of services to families, including transportation to town, access to social services, obtaining health and dental care, enrolling in English classes at the adult education, enrolling children in schools and camps and helping with identification and driver’s licenses, finding employment and acculturating to America.
Volunteers must sign a confidentiality agreement and go through a background check.
“We also expect them to be vaccinated if they are to interact directly with people,” Rummel added.
Speaking of volunteers, Maggy Gilbert, a parishioner at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Mystic, started working for StartFresh last year after a conversation with her friend Hildy Ziegler.
“Now I’m here for life,” Gilbert said. “This work is so rewarding. I get more out of it than I give.
These two women were responsible for cleaning the apartment that had been rented for the Afghan family and purchasing food and other essentials. Last year, they were also able to choose furniture for the former refugee family brought to New London by StartFresh.
“In the future, Hildy and I will be responsible for the food. When a specific job needs to be done, I volunteer, ”explained Gilbert.
Sue Rummel summarized her feelings about the people who give their time and talents to StartFresh as follows: “I want to thank so many people and organizations who have opened their hearts and their wallets to welcome and show their support for our new Afghan family, as well as the five previous refugee families. Their stories are amazing and heartbreaking, but everyone took every opportunity to build a good life for themselves. She cited the example of the first family helped by StartFresh, who now own their own home and have two children in college.
For a full list of services provided and volunteers that StartFresh needs, as well as how to donate, visit their website startfreshct.org.
Jim Izzo is a retired teacher living in Mystic.