JCARR Families Face Challenges Living in a New Culture

The complicated reality of the COVID-19 pandemic hit many people by surprise. The order to stay at home came from not only the governor of Connecticut, but also from Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services (IRIS), which provided detailed explanations in the languages JCARR’s immigrant families speak. The families are listening to the news in their own languages; they understand that JCARR personnel and volunteers can’t come to their homes to visit and talk together about their current needs. Most of JCARR’s volunteer drivers are retirees; they regretfully said they cannot provide rides to our families. JCARR has created a LYFT Concierge account so it can pay for rides in case of an urgent need.

Although JCARR families’ needs didn’t change, the way of assisting them had to change. The newest family, asylum seekers from Angola, only arrived in New Haven in early February. JCARR’s Education Task Force worked hard to get the six-year old enrolled in first grade and the father enrolled in ESL classes with New Haven Adult Education. The mother and the little girls signed up for ESL and early literacy classes through IRIS. They learned to get to classes by public bus.

Almost as soon as everything was set in place, though, schools were closed, and the family was confined to their tiny apartment. Barbara Klein and Gladys Horowitz got to work. They communicated with the first grader’s school and got her a Chrome device. Klein started tutoring the child via WhatsApp. Although it took weeks, they finally got internet access from Comcast. IRIS provided online ESL classes and materials. Sheldon Natkin helped the family improve their technology skills. Beth Jackson and Marillia Montgomery provided essential interpretation in Portuguese and English.

Now the family is able to continue learning at home. JCARR communicates with them almost every day —usually in French. They are confident that the determination and motivation that led this family to walk from Brazil to the United States will serve them once again, and that one day they will be able to talk about COVID in the past—in English.

Jean Silk is the Coordinator for the Jewish Community Alliance for Refugee Resettlement (JCARR). She can be reached at (203) 687-8808 or jsilk@jewishnewhaven.org.

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