In Rutland, Vermont welcoming refugees is a community collaborative. Vermonters will travel up to two hours to volunteer with the resettlement program, and are generous with their donations for new arrivals. The Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program (VRRP) is a field office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and the only resettlement program in the state. Last fiscal year the office welcomed 386 refugees to Chittenden County.
The Bellows Falls United Church is one of the groups with a passion to serve resettled refugees in their area. In April 2016, a resolution was passed in which the church decided to become more involved with VRRP. Rev. Lise Sparrow, representing the United Church of Christ, publicly thanked VRRP Director Amila Merdzanovic for what she and her organization had done in the community. Merdzanovic spoke with church leaders to answer questions about how they could help.
Merdzanovic is the first former refugee to serve as VRRP Director. She originally came to Vermont from Bosnia in 1995 and is compassionate towards others in the same situation she was in. Many refugees are highly educated and have specialized skills, but have to begin working in jobs they are overqualified for. Merdzanovic, for example, took a job in a bakery in Burlington after previously working for a large publishing company in Bosnia.
Refugees are hardworking and desire to be self-sufficient as soon as possible. “What I have consistently heard from families, no matter what group they are from, is they are here for their children and they want to see their children thrive,” said Merdzanovic.
While Vermont has been blessed with strong community support for refugees, there have been challenges due to the fear invoked with the current political rhetoric. The VRRP remains thankful and hopeful about refugee resettlement in Vermont.
Photo Credit: Brattleboro Reformer