JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Several Afghan refugees are getting settled into their new homes in Jacksonville. The State Department named Jacksonville one of the top 19 welcoming cities for Afghan refugees based on cost of living, housing availability and a welcoming community with volunteers and resources.
"It's important to know that they are running from the people that a lot of people are scared of, and they've had first experience with them," Laura Cook, Senior Refugee Services Program Manager for Lutheran Social Services, said.
"Just be mindful that this is an opportunity for them and their families to live a safe and a productive life here in United States, and so we're honored to be able to offer that to them. You know, it's a human right to live in a peaceful environment, to be able to thrive and not just survive," she said.
Cook said they've already helped resettle 26 Afghan refugees over the past few weeks in Jacksonville.
“We really don't know how many we will receive in the next coming weeks or months. It's kind of a fluid situation. We get updates regularly, but we have put in our capacity number at 130, and that doesn't mean we'll get 130 Afghan refugees, but we can serve that much. And if they need us, we'll serve more," Cook said.
According to Cook, most of the refugees, who didn't feel comfortable talking, come to Jacksonville because they have friends or family here. If not, they can pick from a list of cities to resettle.
“I think they're doing well. I think they have a lot of support from their family and friends here in Jacksonville, and there's a good-sized Afghan population that I've been very welcoming to them," she said.
Lutheran Social Services staff and volunteers find the families an apartment, stock it with donated goods, meet them at the airport and then show them the apartment. Over the next few months, they take cultural orientation classes and learn about life in the United States.
“For that first three months, we have a goal of being self-sufficient by the end of those 90 days, which is a pretty big goal. Imagine just being popped in a new country and having to learn absolutely everything in three months," Cook said.
"We do have services up to five years like employment, youth mentoring, case management services, and they also continue with English classes up to five years as well. But everything in all of our services really point to that, them being self-sufficient and helping empower them to be able to live a successful life here United States," she said.
Cook said they've already had an outpouring of donations.
"Everyone is reaching out to us and wanting to show they're welcome and support in some way, and it makes me really proud to be a part of this Jacksonville community," she said.
You can drop off donations at Lutheran Social Services during the week at 4615 Philips Highway. You can also visit their website if you want to volunteer.