By Cristina Parcell, refugee resettlement director, Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida
In honor of MLK Week of Service, United Way is featuring stories from agencies working to create a community of opportunity and equality for families and individuals across Northeast Florida. Check out how Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida, a United Way partner that offers community outreach programs to help those facing hardships stabilize their lives and earn a fresh start, is helping refugees in our community.
I’d like to begin by thanking United Way for giving me an opportunity to write this blog. As the refugee resettlement director at Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida (LSS), I have the great privilege of welcoming so many newcomers from all over the world to our wonderful city. I am energized by their hope and inspired by their resilience. Sadly, this year has not brought Jacksonville as many refugee families as in the past, so we have not been as fortunate to share our country and its freedoms with them.
However, the slowdown in our arrivals has allowed me to focus on ways to better our programs and strengthen the services we provide for when refugees do begin arriving again. The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) recently named LSS the monitoring and managing agency for a consolidation of refugee services in Jacksonville. This will give us an opportunity to best provide employment staffing, English as second language classes, daycare, legal services and case management to all refugees who qualify. We are very honored that DCF has given us the responsibility to ensure the services are provided in the best manner possible.
In addition, this downtime has also given me an opportunity to be more engaged with the rest of the team in the refugee department. I cannot even come up with just one word to best describe them. They are amazing, awesome, intelligent, creative, funny, resilient, and probably the best citizens of humankind. My team represents diverse countries, cultures and languages. We all go home to different customs, food and religions, and yet we come to work every day with the shared passion of gifting a refugee family with opportunity. My team consists of former refugees who have escaped wars, fled in the night, endured decades in refugee camps, came to this country without their families, and so much more. They fled their homelands with fewer possessions than you could fit in a suitcase. I have listened to them in awe. I am so honored to have the opportunity to have heard their stories and, better yet, to have gotten to know them not only as people or my team but as my refugee family.
We will never give up hope that one day we will be able to welcome many new refugees to Jacksonville, and give them the opportunities that many at LSS were given years ago.
With the support of United Way, agencies like Lutheran Social Services are able to help individuals and families in Northeast Florida have hope and reach their full potential. Through the power of partnerships, we support vulnerable individuals of all ages by funding programming focused on sustainable housing, social safety net systems, gender equality and the fight to end hunger. To learn how you can join United Way in the fight for community change, visit unitedwaynefl.org/get-involved.