Broome County faith communities sponsor, find homes for refugees from Afghanistan

Broome County faith communities sponsor, find homes for refugees from Afghanistan

Broome County faith communities have sponsored and found homes for refugees from Afghanistan

While disclosing this on Monday, Roz Antoun of Temple Concord, who is among those who recently welcomed two Afghan refugee families to their new homes in Broome County said, “When they saw us and we saw them ... it was the most surprising match of hearts."

“Instantly there was this feeling of comradery with people we knew nothing about, and they didn’t know us. We were like family right away,” she said.

Two “circles” of faith communities and others have teamed up to sponsor the families.

That has included finding and furnishing homes, as well as raising money to support them for several months.

One of the "circles" is BRAIN, the Broome Regional Afghan Immigration Network. It includes Temple Concord, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation and the United Presbyterian in Binghamton, as well as the First Presbyterian Union Church, and St. Paul’s Episcopal in Owego. 

The American Civic Association is also part of the group.

“They were so appreciative because of our kindness and what we did,” said Phyllis Weinstein, a BRAIN member.

“I think leading up to meeting them, there was a lot of trepidation on our part. We were anxious, nervous; we didn’t know what to expect,” Weinstein said. “That kind of left the minute we saw each other. It was like, it was just wonderful."

Another group includes St. Francis Roman Catholic Church in Binghamton, Holy Family Roman Catholic in Endwell, and the Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus.

Sister Brigid O’Mahony is a member of the missionaries, and a teacher at Seton Catholic Central School in Binghamton.

“We’ve been so filled with grace,” O’Mahony said.

 "The neighbors of our Afghan family have come out of their homes to come over and welcome them and express love to them. It's just fabulous, really,” she said.

When there’s been a need like household goods, she said the word has gone out and people have donated to help set up the homes.

“They came here with absolutely nothing,” she said. “In most cases, they don’t speak English.”

O’Mahony said with translators and apps on phones, they’re able to communicate between Persian Dari and English.

The host groups are cautious about revealing too much about the families, because relatives still remain in Afghanistan.

“They're almost wonderstruck by the amount of love that has been poured out to them,” O’Mahony said. “While they are grateful, they are also suffering for their own families left behind.

“It has been remarkable,” she said of the effort, “to see all of the things work so collaboratively and lovingly on behalf of our Afghan neighbors.”

Both groups had to complete applications, get clearance and attend webinar sessions to bring the families to the Binghamton area.

“We welcome the stranger,” Antoun said. "We are here to be human beings together and make the world a better place.”

“I always think of the ancient Hebrew scholar Rabbi Hillel,” Weinstein said. "'If not me, who, and if not now, when?’”

The Rev. Tim Taugher, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, notes that Mennonites and Sikhs, among others, also have been involved in bringing the Afghan refugees to Broome County.

“The Binghamton area has a good relationship with different faith communities,” he said. “(It) shows a willingness of people to work together, no matter what faith denomination or no faith connections at all.”

It’s expected that another family will be welcomed in Tioga County soon. The groups look to bring others from Afghanistan as well.

“This could be a seed project to bring more people into the community, immigrants who will add to the economic stability,” Antoun said. 

“That would be a real benefit to Binghamton in our own health, and to also give them a place to thrive here with us.”