Welcoming the stranger
Community and Refugee Immigration Services (CRIS) is an independent non-profit agency that serves refugees, asylees and immigrants in central Ohio. CRIS partners with national offices including Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) and Church World Service (CWS) to welcome and walk alongside refugees and immigrants in their journey to reach and sustain self-sufficiency and successfully integrate into their central Ohio community.
Refugees are people who have been forced to flee their home countries due to persecution, violence or war. Refugees are unable to return to their home countries and are often not welcome in the countries to which they flee. Most of the refugees that CRIS currently resettles in Columbus are from Somalia, Bhutan, Iraq, Burma and Afghanistan. After the border crisis last summer, CRIS has also begun helping Central American parents apply for their children to be resettled in Columbus from El Salvador and Guatemala.
CRIS’s resettlement program (the reception and placement of refugees arriving from overseas) serves these individuals and families by providing them with basic needs when they arrive. This includes housing, food, furniture, mattresses, kitchen and household items, coats in the winter and a phone, to name a few. CRIS caseworkers also help refugees get from the airport to their new apartment, apply for social security, understand American culture and basic laws, know how to ride the bus, know where the grocery stores are located, get assigned to ESL (English as a Second Language) classes through Ohio Works First (OWF) or Refugee Social Services Program (RSSP), apply for government benefits, complete a health screening and get all necessary vaccinations, go to primary care appointments and enroll their children in school. Caseworkers remain as resources to refugees almost daily at first, all the while teaching refugees how to do things on their own and not to depend on their caseworker long-term.
CRIS also is a site for ESL classes for people in both the OWF and RSSP programs. In these classes, newly arrived refugees begin to learn English with the ultimate goal of becoming employed. Once the students have a high enough level of English, CRIS’s employment staff assists them in forming a resume, applying for jobs and understanding American professionalism. All of this is to work toward the goal of being self-sufficient so that they can thrive in their new lives in the U.S.
Other programs CRIS offers include a wellness program that focuses on refugee’s mental health. The wellness program involves taking people to yoga and fitness classes, scheduling medical appointments and working with community members to provide special activities including drum circles, nutrition classes, dance classes and art therapy. CRIS also helps refugees with Affidavit of Relationship (AOR) applications that work towards reuniting them with family members they left back home. CRIS has a program that assists older adults in their transition to the U.S. as well as parents with young children and infants. CRIS also offers legal services, which serves mainly immigrants, asylees and those working to obtain their citizenship. CRIS offers translation services and hires staff from the communities we serve. CRIS sees this as crucial since we know the language and cultural competency needed to serve our refugee and immigrant communities well.
For more information or to find ways to get involved with the work of CRIS, visit their website at www.crisohio.org.
Melanie Williams serves as an Episcopal Service Corps volunteer with CRIS and lives in intentional community with other young adult Confluence Year participants in a home in Franklinton.