When Ascentria Care Alliance, one of the largest human service nonprofits in New England, committed to resettling 100 Afghans in New Hampshire last year, they knew they had to tap into the power of local communities for help.
A group of 14 residents at RiverWoods Durham, a not-for-profit retirement community, was up to the task. They were joined by 35 people from surrounding towns, and formed Team Seacoast, a Neighborhood Support Team (NST) to operate on a volunteer basis and work in conjunction with an Ascentria case manager to provide support services like transportation, housing assistance, cultural orientation, and more, while giving Afghan families and individuals the time and space they need to heal. On January 14, 2022, team co-leaders Sudie Blanchard and Charlotte Ramsay met the family of 6 at Manchester Airport. Team Seacoast rented and furnished a four-bedroom house, and on January 17, the family was brought to their new home, complete with a culturally appropriate meal.
There was much work to be done by Team Seacoast including enrolling the children in school, arranging medical appointments and providing transportation, showing the family where they could shop for clothing and food, helping the father find employment, and helping the family learn English. It has been 5 months since their arrival and they are settling in as new members of the Seacoast community. The two older children are doing well in elementary school, while the two younger ones enjoy joining their siblings when volunteers take them on trips to the Seacoast Science Center, Children’s Museum in Dover, and to the beach. During the summer, the children will participate in programs of the Portsmouth Recreation Department and Seacoast Science Center. The father is working at Market Basket. Volunteers are helping him improve his English and prepare for his driver’s license test. He is also learning how to manage family finances with a Team Seacoast volunteer. Another volunteer is helping the mother learn how to use a donated sewing machine. She has become accomplished at making placemats and table runners.
Team member Peter Rice, a retired Sergeant in the US Marine Corp, said, “When I heard that there was this organization whose mission was to settle Afghan families in the Seacoast, I immediately said ‘I’m in’. If this gentleman and his family had been left behind, who knows what would have happened to them. We can only speculate. That’s what motivates me.”
Speaking of the team’s experience, Charlotte said, “It’s been uplifting, inspiring, and yes, hard.” Her co-leader Sudie remarked, “We’ve had people from ten faith communities – churches, along with the synagogue and the local Islamic center — as well as the VFW and two rotary clubs. It’s been a way to bring a community together to help a family. It makes my heart happy. It truly does take a village”
Even local businesses have stepped up to help with donations. On their gift, Kathy Schirling, SVP, Director of Marketing and Community Services from People’s United Bank said, “Thank you to Ascentria Care Alliance for helping Afghan families and individuals resettle in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. We are proud to join Ascentria and other community organizations and individuals to support this cause.” Other businesses have stepped up including RiverWoods Durham, Piscataqua Savings Bank, the York and Portsmouth Rotaries, C&J Bus Lines, Kiwanis Club of the Seacoast, DF Richard Energy, McKinsey & Co, and several places of worship.
Kim Gaskell, Executive Director of RiverWoods Durham, said, “It is truly amazing when a community comes together in support of a common purpose. This is what we’ve seen once again with our residents and their dedication to the efforts of Team Seacoast. The level of love, care, and support provided to this family is unbelievable. I’m proud and thankful we have a community that embraces opportunities to help others within our greater seacoast area community.”
The family is still relying on supports from Team Seacoast as they progress forward towards self-sufficiency.
To make a donation, click here. Funds will go directly into Team Seacoast’s account at Ascentria, and you will receive a receipt to be used for tax purposes.
Check out videos of Team Seacoast and community members as they speak of their involvement with welcoming new neighbors to their community.
· Charlotte and Sudie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69f1eI4mSeQ
· Peter Rice https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQ993fhAESE
· Marc Sorel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3a2XOSbUwuE
· Elementary School Staff https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgVX5B7UWtc