Multicultural Community Center Vermont

Vermonters welcome our new Afghan neighbors

In the Vermont tradition of embracing newcomers, the Green Mountain State is welcoming our new Afghan neighbors. Here in Southern Vermont, the resettlement program is being coordinated through the ECDC Multicultural Community Center in Brattleboro.

Director Joe Wiah explains the center’s mission as helping refugees integrate successfully into the community by engaging the energy, enthusiasm and resources of individuals, service groups, churches, health and educational institutions, businesses and community leaders. Wiah, who left his native Liberia when he was 18, has lived in Vermont for nine years, and praises the state for its welcoming, humanitarian spirit.

“ I’ve never seen the collective commitment to refugee resettlement that I see here,” says Wiah.

The CDC Multicultural Center is working to ensure that Vermonters are ready for our new Afghan neighbors by partnering with local organizations that will provide vital services to refugee families once they arrive.  The Center will also help manage the integration process, so both refugees and locals don’t feel overwhelmed.

“We aren’t just looking to resettle people; we want them to feel welcome here,” says Thomas Huddleston, Co-Sponsorship Manager at ECDC/MCC.  “This means tapping into the energy and caring of the local community, because it’s really helpful to have a friend when you move to a new place.”

Why Vermont is welcoming Afghan Refugees

In 2021, after more than 20 years of war and occupation, the United States began evacuating its forces and allies from Afghanistan. Among the evacuees were tens of thousands of Afghan citizens who had assisted the American military, many working as translators and drivers.  Once the Americans left, these Afghan citizens would have became vulnerable targets for retaliation by Taliban militants.  Recognizing this, and in acknowledgment of the Afghans supportive roles, the U.S. government initiated the evacuation of our allies and their families. Many U.S. states stepped up to offer asylum and support for evacuees, including Vermont.

According to Vermont Governor Phil Scott, welcoming Afghan refugees is “the right thing to do.”

“We have a moral obligation to help the people of Afghanistan, who did so much to help us in the War on Terror,” Scott said, adding that  “welcoming more refugees also strengthens communities, schools, our workforce, culture and economy.”

Scott’s reference to Vermont’s workforce is of special interest to businesses struggling to find employees in a post-pandemic economy. Many Afghan refugees are familiar with American culture through their work with the U.S. military. These refugees are eager to become self-supporting and contributing members of their new communities – and finding good jobs is key to achieving this goal.

“They need everything…”

Refugees arrive in Vermont with very little, a few suitcases at best. “They need everything,” says Jessica Rose, Case Manager at ECDC/MCC.  “Housing, jobs, clothing, furniture, transportation … they’re basically starting from scratch. Financial support is most flexible because that’s an investment in their future here. But cultural integration and friendships are also critical. The warmth of human connection makes a huge difference when you’re a stranger — just having someone who can listen and give you encouragement.”

How You Can Help Refugees  — Right Now

Starting over in a new country is challenging. At the ECDC Multicultural  Community Center, our goal is to manage the integration and community support processes so that both refugees and locals don’t feel overwhelmed.

Cash donations are urgently needed and you can donate here for MCC Brattleboro.  But there are other ways you can offer support for Afghan families. For instance, are you available to drive someone to the supermarket, doctor’s office, post office, or other destination?   Maybe you have serviceable, clean clothing or furniture that you’re willing to donate.  What about helping with childcare, English language tutoring, or simply taking a family to a concert, ice skating rink or craft fair?

We know many Vermonters are ready and willing to help our new neighbors.  Below are our most critical needs, plus helpful information and guidance for donors.

Can you provide rental housing or a homestay?

Do you have a rental property with empty units?  Or a private living area as part of your home?

If so, and you’re willing to house a new Vermonter, we want to hear from you!

We recognize that housing refugees will be a new experience for most Vermonters, and we are here to assist you at every step.  If you’re a landlord, we’ve created a special Rentals FAQ sheet  which covers the reasons why refugees are excellent renters, as well as best practices and leasing processes.

Can you volunteer as a driver, co-sponsor, or support team member?

Our new Vermonters will need direct services, and we‘re seeking volunteers to help with this important work. Direct services involve personal interactions, and can be deeply rewarding for both you and your refugee “client.” Right now, the ECDC / MCC needs drivers, interpreters, and support team volunteers.

DRIVERS will assist refugees with travel to appointments, shopping destinations, and community events. You must be licensed and have a car that has met current inspection standards.

INTERPRETERS fluent in Pashto or Dari will assist refugees at meetings, appointments, and other encounters where clear communication is essential.

CO-SPONSORS are part of a 7-member group offering long-term support to a family. You can find more information on co-sponsorship here.

SUPPORT PERSONS are volunteers with special interests who are eager to share knowledge and enjoy the company of newcomers with similar interests. Can you teach driving? Do you love video gaming? Are you a professional who loves mentoring?  Let us know your interest and we will try to match you with a new Vermonter!

For more information, and to sign up as a volunteer, please use this form.

NEEDS LIST of Items Needed Now

About  Us: The ECDC Multicultural Community Center

ECDC Center Director Joe Wiah at the ribbon cutting for the ECDC Multicultural Community Center in Brattleboro

The ECDC Multicultural Community Center was established in Brattleboro in 2021 under the auspices of the Ethiopian Community Development Council, the world’s only refugee-led resettlement organization, and one of only 9 agencies authorized by the State Department to settle refugees in the United States.

The Brattleboro office coordinates all activities related to local refugee resettlement.  Our goal is to build a welcoming community where refugees feel at home, and their contributions to the local economy, culture and vitality are valued.

To that end, the ECDC Multicultural Community Center celebrates both Afghan and Vermont traditions, stressing that each culture has something to offer, and that learning and appreciating new customs is a bonding experience that brings vitality to a community. “One reason why Vermont was selected for refugee resettlement is the state’s well-known openness to newcomers,” says Huddleston. “Making refugees feel welcome is fundamental to our mission.”

The ECDC Multicultural Center recognizes that community integration involves more than serving the needs of refugees. We also work with local service groups, churches, community leaders, social workers and educators to provide information, and cultural training, so Vermonters can gain a deeper understanding of refugee needs, as well as Afghan culture and customs.

“Community integration is a two-way street.,” says Joe Wiah. “Each of us is coming from a different place, but we can meet in the middle, where we have shared interests. That’s how communities become enriched, stronger and closer-knit.”

Our Partners

The ECDC Multicultural Community Center was created with support and guidance provided through our partnerships with the Ethiopian Community Development Council, the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) and the Community Asylum Seekers Project CASP).

The Ethiopian Community Development Council

Established in 1983, The Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC) is the world’s only refugee-led resettlement organization. ECDC works locally, regionally and nationally. Here In the U.S, ECDC one of only nine agencies authorized by the Department of State to resettle refugees.

ECDC has developed and provided programs and services that respond to the needs of clients from diverse cultural backgrounds. Its resettlement work focuses on giving immigrants hope for the future by helping them become self-sufficient, productive members of their communities through, education, skills-building programs, and an array of social services

In the U.S., ECDC has branch offices in Arlington, Virginia, Denver, Colorado, Silver Spring, Maryland and Las Vegas, Nevada.

ECDC works closely with both the private and public sectors, and has a broad base of financial support derived from corporations, foundations, individual contributions, in-kind donations, religious institutions, and contracts and grants from federal, state, and local government agencies. ECDC is a member of InterAction and the Refugee Council USA.

BDCC:  Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation

The Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC), is a private, nonprofit economic development organization that serves as a catalyst for industrial and commercial growth throughout Southeastern Vermont, including Windham County and the towns of Readsboro, Searsburg, Weston, and Winhall.

The primary objective of the BDCC is to create and retain a flourishing business community that supports vibrant fiscal activity, and improves the quality of life of all its residents. BDCC is deeply interested in creating a sustainable local economy. Filling the need for workers is critical to economic sustainability, which is why BDCC supports the Afghan refugee resettlement project and hopes to welcome these new Vermonters into the local workforce.

CASP: Community Asylum Seekers Project

The mission of the Community Asylum Seekers Project is to cultivate a supportive community for those seeking asylum in the U.S., while offering basic needs and accompanying them on their journey towards building a life in this country.

CASP works to find host homes for individuals and families seeking asylum, and to provide food, clothing, education, medical care and more.  Because CASP understands the basic needs of asylum seekers, and is experienced in helping newcomers navigate Vermont’s support services and organizations, they are an ideal partner in the ECDC Multicultural Center’s mission of helping Afghan refugees find the services and support they need as newcomers to our community.

Contact Us

The ECDC Multicultural Center is located at (112 Hardwood Way, Suite 1, Brattleboro, VT 05301).

For info, email thuddleston@ecdcus.org  

Follow us on Facebook (link www.facebook.com/ECDCMCCVermont)

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1 ECDC stands for the Ethiopian Community Development Council, an international non-government organization devoted to assisting refugees and immigrants. Here in the United States, ECDC has been authorized by the Department of State to resettle Afghan refugees. The ECDC Multicultural Center in Brattleboro is an ECDC-affiliated agency.