Live chat with Dave Jordan, executive director of Community Action Council

September 11, 2007|By

We will be chatting at noon today with Dave Jordan, executive director of Community Action Council, and Richard Cline, director of the Virginia Council of Churches Refugee Program. Our guests will speak and answer questions about the Sept. 19 HCC forum on refugees resettlement.

You can participate by sending your questions to us by clicking here.

Jenny: Why Hagerstown? Because this is a Virginia Council of Churches effort, why not Virginia?

Richard: Refugee resettlement has taken place in Western Maryland, including Hagerstown, since the 1980s. The resettlement was coordinated by the Church of the Brethren out of New Windsor, MD. The Church of the Brethren wanted to separate the areas into two. One - a national promotion of refeugee resettlement among its churches and two- direct services to refugees who settled in the western Maryland area. In 2001 the Virginia Council of Churches was asked to take over the local resettlement effort. The Church of the Brethren operates through Church World Service, the VCC is an affiliate of Church World Service. This was just looked upon as a good fit and a way to continue the program. This is why we are here in Maryland.


Jenny: Prior to bringing the refugees to Washington County, what efforts were made to make connections with the local Council of Churches or individual churches to support and welcome these people?

Richard: Every state that resetttles refugees has a state refugee coordinator. Maryland's coordinator, Ed Lin, met with City Council. He also met with the Washington County Health Department, Department of Social Services, and other leaders in the community. I met with leaders of the Hagerstown Area Religious community. From my initial meeting, an interfaith religious group was formed that helped to resettle refugees in the initial arrivals into Hagerstown.

Jenny: Many in the community felt that the refugees were bought in under cloak of darkness to avoid public outcry. Approaching the community first would have avoided most of that. Of course, for everyone, hind-sight is 20-20. That said, what efforts and connections with local church groups and others have been made in Washington County to insure community support?

Richard: When you consider that refugees have been here since the early 90's and that efforts were made to explain the program, early on in our involvement we sought to avoid the darkness. Over the last two months, a concerted effort has been made to involve local churches, community groups, and volunteers to provide support for refugees.

Moderator: Does VCC have any sites in Virginia?

RIchard: We resettle refugees at four sites within Virginia. Our largest resettlement site is in Richmond. Followed by Newport News, Harrisonburg, and Manassas.

Moderator: In his opinion article earlier this year, Dave Jordan criticized the VCC for its poor communication. Has that been remedied?

Dave: I feel that with the forum coming up on Sept 19, along with the monthly meetings that have been taking place since January, communication has taken great strides in providing everyone with information about the Resettlement Program.

Amy: For what ever reason, adequate word did not get out to the masses or

those who have shown an interested in volunteering in the past.That

is why some of the editorials have been deemed quite hurtful to many

who would ordinarily be out there helping. How can we help? Are there

programs or ways to assist the main office, at a main Church, or

Pangborne School or in the the neighborhoods housing the refugees. (I

understand,a high concentration are in that area.)

Richard: There are many ways to become involved with the program. You can volunteer to help with transportation and community orientation, your church or civic organization can assist with donations of household good and items,(ie, furniture, cookware, towels, sundry items,) all those items for people to set up house. If you happen to have an older vehicle that runs, you might want to donate it. Your donation would help provide a family transportation to work. You can contact the Hagerstown office 301-665-9564 and ask to talk to Mary Beth or Dan.

Moderator: Does Washington County have enough low-cost housing to absorb any more refugees?

Dave: I would suggest this is more an afforable housing issue than a low income housing question. There is limited supply of low income housing for families but I do not see this as a refugee issue.

Richard: I only know of two refugee families that are currently in low income housing. One is an elderly couple, the other a single mother with three children. By far most refugees live in market rate housing. Hagerstown has a very favorable ratio of income to rental rates, one of the best of all of our resettlement sites.

Moderator: What is the fiscal impact of the refugees on the school system? Do we pay for the cost of teaching their children English?

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