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Kent Co. asks community for help welcoming Afghan refugees

Olivier Douliery/Pool/AFP Via Getty Images
Afghan refugees wait to be processed Sept. 8 inside Hangar 5 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

“Come together to make sure that every single person in our community feels welcome feels belonged and feels connected,” Kent County Chief Inclusion officer, Teresa Branson, said.

As hundreds of refugees enter West Michigan, Kent County is asking the community for help in the resettlement process. Kent County Chief Inclusion Officer, Teresa Branson, said it will take widespread collaboration to fully extend the county’s welcome plan, which has been underway for about two years.

"How can we leverage multiple resources, multiple people, all come together to make sure that every single person in our community feels welcome, feels belonged and feels connected?” Branson asked rhetorically, before noting that Kent County's Gateways for Growth Welcome Plan is the foundation of those goals.

Kent County’s Gateways for Growth Welcome Plan Steering Committee has outlined five key areas of growth for incoming Afghan neighbors: civic engagement, economic development, education, equitable access to services, as well as safe and connected communities.

With refugees already arriving in Kent County, Branson said housing and financial support are among the top physical needs, adding that emotional and mental health services are paramount as well. The county has a call out to mental health providers, asking for a donation of services for arriving refugees, and is encouraging community members to donate their time to welcome in their new neighbors.

“Refugee arrivals, you know the stress the mental health that goes along with that, let alone what individuals were facing prior to coming here, just the stress of being in a new place and wanting to belong... speaks to what our welcome plan is set up for,” she said.

Information about the Gateways for Growth Welcome Plan can be found, here.