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Refugee services in the news and women’s project warms up JF&CS clients

Many of you read last week the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story “Giving thanks: Newly arrived refugees share an American holiday.”

The Rai family featured in the article was resettled by JF&CS earlier this year. The reporter did a terrific job revealing the network of government agencies and community partners that work together in the refugee resettlement process, with JF&CS central to many of these connections. Working together, we’re able to accomplish so much more.

This story about our important refugee services comes on the heels of a great community project. Below, I would like to share with you the details of a unique collaboration with volunteers from our partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh….

I have been knitting since World War II, when my fiancé went off to war. The first pair of socks I knitted and sent came up to his hips! I have knitted ever since then. I am very involved with the community and the Federation. When I learned about knitting for refugees, I said this is something I can do. We learned a lot as a community when we resettled Russian refugees, and it’s wonderful that we still are helping now. It means a lot to me that the Jewish community plays a leadership role in helping so many people. ~ Anita Smolover

As participants in the Jewish Federation Women’s Philanthropy Keep ‘Em in Stitches program, Anita Smolover and dozens of other women knitted more than one hundred scarves, hats and blankets to help keep JF&CS refugee clients warm this winter.

Refugee knitting project
Starting in April 2010, Keep ‘Em in Stitches participants met monthly at Knit One in Squirrel Hill.

Just before Thanksgiving, on a dreary fall day when anyone could have used some cozy, hand-knit gear, the women met to celebrate the conclusion of the five-month program and present the items to JF&CS refugee services staff at the new Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry, where our refugee offices are located.

Many of you are familiar with JF&CS’s refugee services — helping people fleeing persecution in their own home countries to start a new life in America. The refugees that JF&CS helps are brought to the United States by the U.S. Department of State and Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) through the national voluntary organization of the Jewish community, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). At the local level, JF&CS staff works tirelessly to resettle refugees successfully in our community. We provide refugees with such basic needs as food, clothing and shelter; we also help them become self-sufficient through supportive services like bilingual case management, cultural orientation, vocational counseling and job search assistance.

Refugee knitting
Program co-chairs Sheri Letwin (left) and Amy Platt display one of the beautifully-knit scarves at the reunion event.

Keep ‘Em in Stitches program co-chair Amy Platt shared a special thank you to JF&CS refugee services staff for the important work they do, and I echo her sentiments. We’re lucky to have a dedicated team so sensitive to the unique circumstances and needs of refugees and to be a part of this caring, worldly community.

If you would like to volunteer or learn how your organization can help our refugee services program, please contact Leslie Aizenman, Refugee Services Director, at 412-422-7200.