“Get Engaged (in Your Community) with Tiffany Hanson” is a series exploring community engagement opportunities in Indianapolis.
On April 20, 1980, Fidel Castro announced that all Cubans wishing to emigrate to the United States were free to board boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana, launching the Mariel Boatlift. Previously restricted by their government from leaving the country, the first Cuban refugees from Mariel reached Florida the next day, and in five months, 125,000 Cubans fled to U.S. shores, amassing waves of families looking for new freedoms and new lives in America.
Founded in 1981, Exodus Refugee Immigration came into existence in response to refugees arriving during the Mariel Boatlift. Over the past 41 years, Exodus has helped thousands of refugees from more than 50 countries build new lives here in Central Indiana.
HOW EXODUS REFUGEE IMMIGRATION HELPS
Close your eyes and picture yourself arriving in the airport of a new country where 1) you don’t understand the language or how to navigate the city, 2) you have no idea where you’re going to live or how you’ll support your family, and 3) where you were able to bring just one suitcase of belongings from your home with you to begin a brand new life. Now imagine how much more manageable it would feel working through this process with a trusted advisor by your side.
When refugees arrive in Indiana, the Exodus team greets them at the airport and begins helping them establish the essentials they’ll need to be successful in their new life. The team finds and sets up housing for clients, arranges medical appointments, enrolls children in school, provides English classes, helps adults find jobs, and more.
Director of Self-Sufficiency Programs Kari Moore recently celebrated working with Exodus for ten years. When asked what Exodus means to her, she shared, “To me, Exodus represents a place where we are really striving to uphold the ideals of human rights — to create a place where all people are valued, where all people have a home, all people are welcomed and respected, all people are treated equitably and have access to the things they need, and where we do our best to provide excellent support to every client as they start life in a new country.”
“It’s a place where we laugh, cry, struggle, and grow together, both as a staff and with our clients,” Moore added.
In addition to providing essential support during that welcome and settling in time, for up to five years, Exodus can provide additional services depending on clients’ needs. This includes helping clients resolve immigration-related legal matters like getting green cards or citizenship, and providing programming specifically targeted to children and teenagers, as well as a women’s program, which focuses on meeting the unique needs of refugee women.
“Through my work with our Women’s Giving Circle, I get to connect refugee women with supporters in our community. Recently, two refugee women taught members of the group how to weave baskets, and in the past, refugee women have taught women how to cook their cultural recipes,” Exodus’ Director of Development Cassandra Sanborn said.
Sanborn shared that facilitating these types of connections can help refugees feel more comfortable in a new community and highlight the incredible culture and knowledge they bring to their new home here in Indiana.
MEET HAIMANOT, AN EXODUS CLIENT
Haimanot fled Eritrea many years ago and lived in a refugee camp in Ethiopia before she and her five children traveled to the United States. As a single mother, she worked hard to start a new life for her children here in the United States. With the help of Exodus staff and volunteers, she received the help she needed to thrive.
Now, after living in Indiana for many years, Haimanot’s two oldest children are successful college students, her youngest children are also thriving and succeeding in school, and she and her children are all now U.S. citizens. About citizenship Haimanot shares, “I think, to me, what it means to have U.S. citizenship is to be equal with other people.”
“What I wish people knew about refugees like me is that we come here to change our lives,” Haimanot said. “The future hopes I have are all about my kids. I really hope they have a good education and that when they finish school, they can become teachers or lawyers.”
It seems Haimanot’s dreams are not too different from the dreams of many American families.
PUT A RING ON IT — WAYS TO GET ENGAGED
During their 2021 fiscal year, Exodus welcomed 135 clients from six countries to Indianapolis, in addition to serving more than 900 people through their extended programming. Then, from October 2021 through today, Exodus has welcomed more than 350 Afghan evacuees, in addition to their normal workload welcoming refugees from all over the world.
Helping families begin new lives in Indiana is a lot of work and they sure could use help. Exodus always needs volunteers who are ready to pitch in.
- Have limited time but are looking for an opportunity to roll up your sleeves? Volunteer for one-time opportunities, like helping to organize donations or moving furniture into apartments for new arrivals.
- Have more time and an abundance of passion for helping refugees? Consider ongoing volunteer opportunities, like greeting folks at their front desk, helping clients practice English, teaching a client how to ride the bus, or mentoring a newly arrived refugee family.
- Have a team at church or at work that would love to get involved? Exodus also provides group volunteer opportunities, like forming a welcome team to provide support to a new refugee family for up to 90 days.
Donations go a long way as Exodus helps newly arrived refugee families start brand new lives. Have some friends at work or church you can rally for a donation drive? The Exodus team does a tremendous job of sharing exactly what they need.
- Donate household items like furniture — especially couches and dining room tables —dishes and kitchenware, bicycles, sewing machines, and other new or gently used household items that people need to set up their first homes in the United States.
- Purchase wish list items to support mothers who are pregnant or who have welcomed newborns recently, or consider joining the “Women’s Giving Circle” by donating $1,000 directly to the Exodus Women’s Program. These contributors receive regular updates about the work the Women’s Program is doing, gain access to special volunteer opportunities, and receive invitations to social gatherings such as the Global Women’s Friendship Dinner.
- To learn more, reach out to Cassandra Sanborn at email@example.com or 317-677-3870.
- In addition to needing school supplies, refugee students need new clothes to be ready to go to school. Many schools recently eliminated uniforms, so students need a variety of clothing to get them through this school year.
- For a list of items to donate, reach out to Cassandra Sanborn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your voice matters! Educate yourself about the refugee journey, spread awareness, and help advocate for support for these new neighbors.
- Pay attention to local and national news about refugees and research the history of the challenges these families faced in their home country.
- When you see your elected representatives working to welcome refugees, call them and let them know you appreciate this work and that you support welcoming refugees here in Indiana.
- If you learn about legislation that is harmful to refugees, let your elected officials know that you want to continue to make Indiana a welcoming, diverse state. Your voice can make a significant difference to gain support for those fleeing violence, persecution, and injustice.
Tiffany Hanson is an outreach and engagement professional committed to finding ways to embrace and support humans wherever she goes. You can find her on LinkedIn and Instagram.
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