Photograph by Avril Sweeny
Above: Shekaiba Bennett collects donations for families in need.
With a little luck, New Canaan could soon be home to a family most in need of one. That’s the dream of Juli Kurtzman and other local moms. Last fall, Kurtzman had all but given up hope for families in flight from Syria. “I’d gotten to the point where I couldn’t read any more articles because I felt so helpless,” she recalled recently. Then she received an NPR newsfeed about Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), a New Haven-based organization that resettled some 530 refugees in Connecticut in 2016—200 of them through community groups. It also helped that Governor Dannel Malloy opened the state’s doors to families from Syria and other war-torn countries.
That night, Kurtzman went on the Facebook page of New Canaan Moms, a formidable group of some 1,700 women, asking for volunteers. Overnight, 50 people responded and the following Sunday six showed up at her house to form New Canaan Welcomes and help shelter refugee families. Shekaiba Bennett, who was born in Afghanistan and speaks Farsi, serves on the group’s language committee in anticipation of settling an Afghani family.
Now with 200-plus members, New Canaan Welcomes has raised more than $17,500 and collected atleast five truckloads of household items and furniture—enough to furnish an apartment in the area for a new family.
Roadblocks to the group’s efforts are President Trump’s recent executive orders suspending the nation’s refugee program and imposing a travel ban on immigrants from six Muslim countries. But that hasn’t deterred Kurtzman and the others, who hope injunctions will be filed against those measures. “If the ban gets set aside,” says Kurtzman, “we’ll be ready to welcome a new family.”
HOW TO HELP
Visit the site ncwelcomes.com for updates on the travel ban and news of upcoming local events in support of refugees. Through the website, you can also make donations and volunteer for committees that organize finances, jobs, education and affordable housing for refugee families.