Private Funders Unite to Support Community Sponsorship of Refugees in the United States

By USCRI March 4, 2021

Catalyst Fund announces its inaugural slate of grantees from across the country.

March 1, 2021, New York – The first private fund to expand community sponsorship in the United States announced its inaugural slate of grantees today. Eight local community organizations from across the country have been selected. The Community Sponsorship Catalyst Fund, a collaboration supported by the Open Society Foundations, The Shapiro Foundation, G. Barrie Landry, Laurie T. Franz, Jed Weiss and Ilana Braun, has awarded each of these organizations a $100,000 grant, to be dispersed over two years, to start a new community sponsorship program or enhance an already existing one.

Community sponsorship is a community-centered initiative that brings together local volunteers to welcome and support newly arrived refugees and other forcibly displaced populations as they begin to rebuild their lives. It involves people from all walks of life: teachers, business owners, faith communities, homemakers and students, all united in a common goal: to help newcomers find their feet in their new homes. From assisting refugees to find safe and affordable housing and navigate the local public transportation system, to helping to enroll children in school and find that crucial first job, community sponsors become an indispensable support hub for refugees and in some instances asylum-seekers, asylees, survivors of trafficking, and unaccompanied children, as they establish themselves in the United States.

Given President Biden’s recent encouragement to expand the community sponsorship model, this fund could not be more timely. Modeled on programs in other countries, including Canada, Ireland, and Argentina, sponsorship creates an opportunity for community members to be directly involved in welcoming and assisting refugees as they restart their lives in the U.S. Under the previous administration, the traditional refugee resettlement system was decimated. Community sponsorship will tap into the broad and bipartisan support for refugee resettlement across the country, and help to rebuild the resettlement system in a way that is grounded in community participation. This will ensure that refugees and other displaced persons have the best chance possible to succeed.

The organizations selected for the Catalyst Fund reflect this broad support. From New Orleans, Louisiana, to Durham, North Carolina, and Albany, in upstate New York, these organizations will play their part in a variety of different ways. In North Carolina, for example, the local office of Church World Service will focus this funding on refugees who have been living in the neighborhood for a year or more and help to connect them with opportunities for paid internships, vocational training, and the resources they need in their career development. In Albany, New York, USCRI will work with both newly arrived refugees, and those who have been there for a while, and who are struggling to achieve self-sufficiency.

Earlier this month, President Biden announced that he would increase the number of refugees to be given sanctuary in the United States, to 125,000, in the fiscal year starting on October 1, 2021. The United States has long been the standard-bearer for refugee resettlement, until recently resettling more refugees than any other country in the world. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, over 26 million people are living as refugees this year, over half of whom are children. Refugees are people who have been forced to flee their homes and their countries due to war and persecution, with no real prospect of being able to return home safely. Less than 1% of refugees are given the opportunity to resettle to a safe, new community outside of their immediate geographic location.

Two close partners, Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services and Refugee Council USA, helped design and promote this opportunity, and provided expert guidance on how to successfully develop and implement new and enhanced community sponsorship programs.

The Shapiro Foundation’s Ed Shapiro said: “Refugee resettlement would not be where it is today were it not for the millions of Americans who have extended their hand to refugees given sanctuary here. Community sponsorship will allow even more Americans to participate, and will strengthen the refugee resettlement program. The opportunity before us is truly historic.”

The Open Society Foundation’s Gregory Maniatis said: “We have seen how successful community sponsorship has been based on the experiences of our neighbors to the north, in Canada. Communities across the country are, in essence, an untapped resource for refugees. At this critical moment, the Open Society Foundations are delighted to support the Catalyst Fund and hope that we inspire additional funders to join us.”

G. Barrie Landry said: “The United States was founded on the principle of E pluribus Unum, out of many one. Our history of welcome has made us the nation we are today, which is why, when more people are forced to flee war, ongoing violence, or persecution, than at any other time in living memory, the United States must continue to lead. The Community Sponsorship Catalyst Fund creates connections, builds bridges, and ultimately allows whole communities to flourish.”

Laurie T. Franz said: “President Biden’s endorsement of the Community Sponsorship model reaffirms what I have known to be true for a long time: in local communities across the country, the American spirit of welcome and warmth is alive and well. It is my hope that we can expand the community sponsorship model to a point where all Americans who would like to, can play an integral role in welcoming refugees to their communities.”

Jed Weiss and Ilana Braun said: “As children and grandchildren of refugees and immigrants ourselves, and with a keen sense of the many conflicts that continue, unabated, globally, we see community sponsorship as a vital bridge for refugees who come to the United States. We are deeply moved by the meaningful work these community organizations do to help immigrants and refugees find their feet. Also in our hearts is the memory of our dear friend, Leah Zallman, who devoted her professional life to improving the health and wellbeing of those new to our country. We contribute to these important efforts in her honor and look forward to the day when community sponsorship is incorporated into refugee resettlement programs across the country.”

The complete list of recipients for the Community Sponsorship Catalyst Fund are as follows:

Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas (Kansas City, KS)

Church World Service North Carolina (Durham and Greensboro, NC)

Ethiopian Community Development Council (Denver, CO and Washington, D.C.)

Home Is Here NOLA (New Orleans, LA)

Interfaith Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) & Home for Refugees USA (Los Angeles, CA)

New Roots Fund (Seattle, WA)

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) Albany Field Office (Albany, NY)

World Relief Chicagoland (Chicago, IL)

Recognizing the urgent need for an expansion of the Community Sponsorship model in the United States, the funders behind the Catalyst Fund are planning a second round of support for this initiative. Details to be announced soon.

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