WEST NEWBURY — Members of West Newbury Congregational Church and the community are joining forces to sponsor an individual or family from Afghanistan.

The Rev. Manny Cumplido and his group of volunteers have partnered with the resettlement agency Ascentria Care Alliance to get the information and resources needed to become a neighborhood support team for people who fled Afghanistan following the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the takeover by the Taliban.

Participation on the team is open and membership in the church is not required, Cumplido said.

The goal is to welcome the refugees and help them find housing, legal assistance and living essentials to successfully transition to this area.

The team demonstrates its readiness to welcome the newcomers by first raising between $8,000 and $12,000 to support the individual or family for six to 12 months.

Ascentria provides $1,400 per refugee to the neighborhood support team. As an established nonprofit organization, Ascentria holds the money and the support team rounds up the items and services needed from the organization.

The team researches and secures a house or apartment, ideally with two to four bedrooms, near public transportation and close to the team’s home base.

“If it’s too far away, then it’s a nonstarter for our team,” Cumplido said.

Once housing is approved, team members attend training sessions and develop a fun video as a way to introduce the community to the new arrivals. An interview to assess the team’s readiness is conducted, then the support team is matched with a person or family.

Cumplido’s group is tapping expertise from Rob Antonucci of Wenham, who is serving as a cultural adviser. At a recent virtual meeting, Antonucci described his experiences helping Afghans in Afghanistan and the U.S.

While many in the U.S. watched from afar at the tragedy unfolding in the Central Asian country in August, Afghans were fleeing their homeland and landing in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Spain, Germany and Albania.

In the U.S., eight military bases have received Afghan “guests,” a term Antonucci says the refugees prefer.

“They like that better – gives them a lot more dignity,” he said. “Afghans love ‘guests’ and understand the importance of guests and hospitality.”

During his recent visit to a base in Virginia, the new arrivals asked Antonucci questions about where the work opportunities are; how to find housing and schools; and how to get a driver’s license. Each person is assigned a Social Security number and, when appropriate, a work permit.

They are vaccinated and it is determined if they are in good health.

“They’re grateful to be here, but also very worried about family who didn’t make it out,” Antonucci said.

The emergency exodus last summer caused many families to become separated.

“One woman that my wife talked with said that her husband pushed her through the (airport) gate and said, ‘Just go,’” he recalled. She left her family behind, knows no one here, and doesn’t speak English. Children were sent to different countries and are now trying to reunite with their parents.

“Husbands are here and their wife and kids are back there,” Antonucci said. “Just break-your-heart kind of stories.”

Cumplido encourages anyone interested in joining the team or supporting the effort in other ways to email him at manny@westnewbury.org or sign up directly at https://bit.ly/NSTSignup

Ascentria conducts background checks on all volunteers.

“They are eager to get teams through the pipelines. They’re not trying to place obstacles, they are just making sure you are equipped,” he said.

Team members can participate on a range of committees. The resettlement agency also offers fundraising ideas, sample press releases and Facebook posts.

“It’s really, really, really well-organized,” the pastor said of Ascentria. “They’ve done this many times before. They have the process down backwards and forwards.”

Ascentria, formerly known as Lutheran Social Services of New England, is preparing 500 Afghans for resettlement in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, with 80 people ready immediately.

“Depending on our ability to pool resources quickly, we could expect a family in January or even before the end of the year if things just click into place,” Cumplido said.

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