Local Organizations Unite to Help Afghan Refugees Learn English

Jun 24, 2022

The Interfaith Refugee Resettlement Committee, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, Housatonic Community College and its Foundation partner together.

BRIDGEPORT, CT (June 22, 2022) Each year refugees seek safety in our country, often arriving with nothing more than a suitcase, and struggling with our language. That’s why the Interfaith Refugee Resettlement Committee (IRRC), Fairfield County’s Community Foundation (FCCF), Housatonic Community College (HCC) and its Foundation banded together to help develop the English communication skills of an Afghan family fleeing the Taliban.

This summer, three members of this family are taking English as a Second Language (ESL) courses at Housatonic Community College to improve their English and progress towards their longer-term professional goals. Six family members also completed ESL classes this past Spring at HCC. Funding for their tuition was provided by the Immigrant Success Fund at Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, as well as via student summer scholarships provided by the Housatonic Community College Foundation.

For refugees of non-English speaking countries, language is a crucial means of assimilating into their new culture here in America. However, learning a new language is not an easy task.

“We are honored to play a role in helping this newly arrived refugee family successfully integrate into our community. Many of our HCC scholars come to campus needing ESL support, and our passionate educators are dedicated to academic instruction to improve their English communication skills,” said Dr. Dwayne Smith, CEO of Housatonic Community College.

Many of the adults in the Afghan family here, which consists of a father, mother, five adult daughters (ages 18-28), a son-in-law, and three children (ages 8, 5 and 2) held professional positions. The father held a senior position with a women’s rights organization, and the young adults were human resources and communications professionals, teachers, doctors in training, and college students. Their efforts contributed to strengthening Afghanistan’s democracy and attracted the wrath of the Taliban.

The IRRC is run under the auspices of IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services), New Haven. IRIS pioneered a new model called ‘community co-sponsorship’ as a private sector response to refugee support. The IRRC, consisting of volunteers from three churches, two synagogues and two mosques across Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield, is working to provide services such as housing, social services, medical services and employment for the family.

“Our team of volunteers has provided guidance as family members became acclimated, found employment in their fields, and studied English.  We have continually been inspired by their determination, keen intelligence, kindness, hospitality, graciousness and optimism.  While the family has coped with immense change over a very short period of time, we have been the beneficiaries, sharing cups of tea and learning about Afghan culture and traditions from our Afghan friends,” said Ann Marshman, IRRC volunteer and team leader.

Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, which seeks to close the opportunity gap in Fairfield County, addresses the structural and cultural issues that contribute to disparities, particularly for Fairfield County’s immigrant population. Its immigrant-focused funds concentrate on improving wellbeing, building capacity and positioning immigrants to achieve success.

“Strong communities make it possible for their newest members to succeed and thrive,” said Fairfield County’s Community Foundation President and CEO Juanita James. “That’s why we’re committed to supporting Fairfield County’s refugees and why we’re proud to partner with the Interfaith Refugee Resettlement Committee and Housatonic Community College on this important and timely effort,” said Juanita James, FCCF President and CEO.

By working together, these organizations are helping this refugee family to build lives here, and at the same time, strengthening our own community.

About the Housatonic Community College Foundation
Founded in 1990 by a team of business and arts leaders from the greater Bridgeport community, the Housatonic Community College Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that solicits, secures and manages contributions from the private sector through individuals, corporations and foundations for the benefit of HCC. The HCC Foundation distributes resources in the form of full and partial scholarships to students with proven academic performance and demonstrated financial need.

About Housatonic Community College
Serving southern Connecticut for over 50 years, Housatonic Community College (HCC) offers a student-centered, high quality and accessible education through over 75 associate degree programs to prepare students for transfer to four-year institutions. The college also offers occupational associate degrees and certificate programs, and the non-credit division partners with local business and industry to offer workforce training and customized professional development.  HCC is distinguished as an Achieving the Dream Leader Institution and is ranked by the Aspen Institute among the nation’s top 150 community colleges.

About Fairfield County’s Community Foundation
Fairfield County’s Community Foundation promotes philanthropy as a means to create change in Fairfield County, focusing on innovative and collaborative solutions to critical issues impacting the community. Individuals, families, corporations, and organizations can establish charitable funds or contribute to existing funds. The Community Foundation is in compliance with the Council on Foundations’ national standards and has awarded over $337.5 million in grants to nonprofits in Fairfield County and beyond since 1992. As a trusted nonprofit partner and thought leader, the organization brings together nonprofits, business experts, and philanthropists to close the opportunity gap in Fairfield County with a focus on eliminating disparities in education, employment, housing, and health. Our goal is to create a vital and inclusive community, where every individual has the opportunity to thrive. Learn more at  FCCFoundation.org. Follow us on FacebookInstagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.