By Barbara Klein, JCARR co-leader of education
Summer! A magical word that conjures up wonderful childhood memories for so many of us. Likewise, for the children of families that JCARR (Jewish Community Alliance for Refugee Resettlement) has sponsored, summer has a magical allure—but making the magic come alive can be fraught with challenges.
As newcomers to the greater New Haven community, JCARR families aren’t always aware of what resources are available to them. Where are there local beaches and free swimming pools? Where can my children play outside safely? they wonder. The world is a confusing place for our new families, especially for those who can’t speak or read English. That’s when JCARR steps in with help and support.
Over the past seven years, JCARR has sponsored seven refugee and asylum-seeking families from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq, Angola, and Afghanistan, guiding them through a myriad of hurdles as they make a new life in the New Haven community, so that they can ultimately live independent, self-sufficient lives here in the U.S.
This summer, JCARR worked closely with our two most recently arrived families, each with different needs, to help them find summer programs that suited the unique needs of their children.
The first family came from Afghanistan and consisted of a mother and her three children, together with her teenage nephew. The oldest child knew some English; Mom and the children knew none. While the older children were in school during the year, Mom and baby attended English as a Second Language (ESL) and family literacy classes given by Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS). This summer, IRIS expanded this program to offer ESL and recreational opportunities for school-age children, allowing Mom to continue learning English, continuity for the baby, and additional support for the all the children to further their English skills and participate in enrichment activities such as music, art, outdoor play and more. JCARR volunteers taught the family how to take the bus every morning from their home to Wilbur Cross High School, where the IRIS Summer Learning Program was held.
The second newly arrived JCARR family — parents and their three young daughters — came from Angola at the start of the pandemic. The family now includes a son, who was born this past April. The parents have acquired some English proficiency, and the children are now very proficient English speakers. The children spent this summer at their neighborhood LEAP summer program, improving their literacy and social skills by engaging in conversation and reading books, and participating in a variety of recreational activities, such as arts and crafts, dance, sports, field trips to water park, science explorations, and more.
Two of the family’s daughters attended free dance classes offered by the New Haven Ballet School. In July, the girls wielding tennis rackets at the Summer Tennis in the Park program at East Shore Park, run by the New Hytes Tennis Organization. Getting to activities was sometimes a problem, but JCARR “friends” provided transportation.
Two other JCARR families with children have been in the New Haven area for several years now and are fully integrated into the New Haven community. Their children had full and fun summer experiences, without any JCARR assistance. For us in JCARR, we call that a success story!