Catholic Charities Oregon has once again partnered with the Portland Police Department to welcome refugees. This initiative came about, in part, as Catholic Charities sought new ways to support newcomers from the moment they arrived in the United States, before offering their normal services such as providing housing. Together, volunteer police officers and the staff of the refugee resettlement program gather at the Portland airport to greet those starting a new journey in their new home.
Other volunteers prepare home cooked, culturally appropriate food and bottled water packages the airport greeters bring with them. Matthew Westerbeck, manager of the Catholic Charities Oregon Refugee Services program, says it’s a simple way to say “thank you for making this journey to us.”
The collaboration between Catholic Charities and the Portland Police Department started about three years ago when officers were invited to explain U.S. laws at weekly refugee cultural orientation classes. The partnership evolved into this novel initiative following the executive order that banned immigrants from entering the United States who were from seven predominately Muslim countries, coupled with the increased media coverage of the numerous arrests of immigrants and refugees.
Portland police officers quickly signed up to participate because they wanted to build trust within the growing immigrant community and help create a more positive experience for refugees that resettled in Oregon. Welcoming refugees at the airport was a small step towards meeting their goal. It also provided officers with the perfect opportunity to let refugees know that they should not be afraid of them, as it is their duty to be resource and protect and serve all residents.
Westerbeck is grateful for the dedication of their volunteers. He finds that after volunteers have done an airport assignment, they often continue their advocacy efforts in other ways as their relationship with members of the community grows.
“People want to help, [they] want to make a difference,” says Westerbeck, on why there is rarely a shortage of participants.
CLINIC applauds Catholic Charites, the Portland Police Department and the many volunteers who continue to promote integration and create a welcoming and safe community for refugees to rebuild their lives.
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