JONAH Supports a New Chapter for Welcoming New Neighbors

By: Bea Evans

A spark of an idea ignited into a grassroots movement named Welcoming New Neighbors (WNN) a year ago.  In early February 2022, Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan approved Eau Claire as a remote resettlement location.  A week later, eight individuals who had fled Afghanistan arrived in Eau Claire to begin a new life.

Fortunately, there was room at an inn because apartments were not available.  Orientation sessions, registration for English classes, shopping trips to Walmart, learning how to ride the bus, medical and benefit appointments filled many days.  Apartment hunting continued. Stock the pantry efforts picked up steam.  Household goods and furniture requests were posted to Sign-up Genius and donations were received.  Apartments were secured, leases signed, and move-ins took place.  Each step of the way dedicated volunteers stepped in to help.

Work permits were received jobs were found and our new neighbors started working.   Accommodations and adjustments were made to meet individual needs.  Our new neighbors passed driver’s tests, received their licenses, and purchased cars.  Independence grew.

A few weeks ago, a group of neighbors gathered to celebrate one year of welcome.  Some in the group were Welcoming New Neighbors volunteers. Others were neighbors, originally from Afghanistan, who now call Eau Claire home.

Speaking around a lit candle, volunteers shared an incident or two from the past year that exemplified the personal joy and reward gained through interaction / problem solving / coaching/ and service to our new neighbors.  Many who spoke were near tears.

“The guys,” our new neighbors, then chose to express their deep appreciation for everything their local family (Welcoming New Neighbor volunteers) provided this past year. When expressing his gratitude, one gentleman mentioned that he felt he was “returning home to Eau Claire” following his asylum interview in Chicago.   Those who followed him echoed his remarks and added they are now one year nearer to having their families joining them.

Welcoming New Neighbors looks forward to that time, as well.  In the meantime, new neighbors continue to arrive in northwest Wisconsin from Ukraine, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and  other countries.  The mission of WNN is to build an organization that serves as a resource to and support of immigrants and those working with immigrants in the greater northwest Wisconsin area as well as one that educates and builds awareness throughout the wider community.

Recently, Welcoming New Neighbors requested that JONAH provide fiscal sponsorship for the WNN organization for a term of 3-5 years to allow members to discern how to broaden its immigrant welcoming mission to, and collaborate with existing groups, like JONAH’s Immigration Task Force, without spending considerable upfront time pursuing its own 501c3 incorporation.  The JONAH Board approved that request on January 17, 2023.  The two organizations signed a Memorandum of Understanding on March 1st.

Welcoming New Neighbors is grateful to JONAH for its support and looks forward to accompanying neighbors new to our country toward self-autonomy and equitable rights as they begin their lives in northwest Wisconsin and become part of our community.

For further information about Welcoming New Neighbors, please contact Bea Evans at 262 565-3327 or [email protected].