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New Syrian Neighbors Greatly Enrich FIRM Community and Beyond

IN THE December 9 ISSUE

FROM THE 2017 Articles,
andHelping Hands,
andTales of Diversity
SECTIONS

by Zachary D. Darrah

Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM) continues serving the community in Fresno for almost its twenty-fourth year. Throughout over two decades, people from all over the world have come through their doors seeking support, love, and hope. As FIRM continues to fulfill its mission of “sharing Christ’s love to build communities of hope with New Americans,” it seems that there continues to be more and more needs. This could not have been more apparent than just over one year ago when Fresno began receiving many Syrian refugee families as they sought to find their permanent home in the United States. After being forced to leave their homes in Syria due to the civil war, many spending years in refugee camps and then being resettled in various places throughout the United States, hope was what was needed most for families.

During the last year serving our new Syrian neighbors, FIRM has assisted families with everything from connecting with social services for their families, enrolling children in school, assisting families with various medical needs, job placement support, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, housing assistance, rent support, driver’s training, acquiring vehicles, and much more! This has all been done in partnership and collaboration with so many in the community. Something that makes Fresno special is that it is a community that has resettled tens of thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia (mostly Hmong, Laotian, and Cambodian) and elsewhere. This community has shown that they can come together to welcome new neighbors! As our new neighbors have arrived from Syria, the community has shown this same love, and FIRM has had the honor and privilege to be one part of this process.

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One of the Syrian refugee families receiving their first car at FIRM! Due to the generous donors in our community, FIRM has received 9 cars for Syrian refugee families!

A lot has happened in one year for so many of the families that are here in Fresno. For most of the families, Fresno is at least their second attempt at finding a permanent home. Many parents have found jobs and have worked hard to earn their drivers’ licenses. Children are in school and many of the younger children are in preschool. The ESL class is thriving, relationships are blossoming, and families are learning more about life here in the United States. However, there are still many challenges. Most all of the families live far below the poverty line. Many of the families will continue to suffer through the trauma of the refugee experience for the rest of their lives. The pursuit of English fluency, educational opportunities, gainful employment, and suitable/healthy housing for the families continues each and everyday. While things may be better for many of our Syrian neighbors, there is still a long way to go as they begin their lives anew.

It has been a blessing beyond words being part of our Syrian neighbors’ stories. Meals together, sharing tea, peer support groups, workshops, ESL classes, driving classes, and so much more have been foundations for relationships we hope to have for the foreseeable future. At FIRM, we believe deeply that the diversity of our community is what makes our community so special and so strong. One of the many ways that FIRM serves the community is through community events throughout the year. This year, our new Syrian neighbors added to these rich moments when our truly diverse community comes together before our eyes. We had many Syrian families at the FIRM Summer Community Carnival. The Syrian children were so excited to get to choose their own new backpacks from countless colors! At the FIRM Family Harvest Celebration, we were able to explain “trick-or-treating” and walk Syrian children through the character hunt as they searched for characters that were new to them (such as Goku, My Little Ponies, and Monsters Inc.). This year’s Community Thanksgiving meal was made more complete as the buffet included turkey, mashed potatoes, egg rolls, chicken Pad Thai, Hmong-style pumpkin soup, and Syrian kubbeh (amongst other Syrian dishes). One beautiful memory of this special day was several of the Syrian women taking pictures with several of the Hmong elders that were wearing their traditional dress for Hmong New Year! Our new neighbors have truly enriched us as an organization, as individuals, and as a Fresno community!

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FIRM Volunteers serve the community at the Community Thanksgiving Meal this year! The buffet included traditional American Thanksgiving food, as well as Hmong, Laotian and Syrian dishes. It was a beautiful event of diversity, unity and celebration!

Speaking of community events, this year, FIRM will host the 24th Annual FIRM Community Christmas on December 16 from 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. This event has continued to grow from serving about 100 people during the early years to now over 1,000! We are expecting at least 1,500 people this year, as over 1,000 children registered to receive a toy this Christmas. Thousands of children will come onto FIRM’s campus to receive a new wrapped toy for Christmas (in partnership with Toys 4 Tots, churches, and community groups), get to have pictures with Santa Claus, have a lunch meal, do Christmas-themed arts and crafts, receive a haircut, receive warm clothing (coats, jackets, blankets, pajamas, etc.), and plenty more! These events are truly special as we see families from all over the world to celebrate Christmas together. We look forward to everyone celebrating with us this year, and it will be especially fun to have our new Syrian neighbors experience the event for the first time!

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A child at the FIRM Community Christmas Celebration receives a bike! Each year, FIRM hosts this event and distributes toys to hundreds of children from the diverse community the organization serves.

While so much great work happens at FIRM, it does not happen without the support of individuals, churches, and organizations from throughout the community. We rely on over a thousand volunteers each year to meet the needs of those that come through our doors and onto our campus. If you would like to join the “FIRM Family” through volunteering, supporting our work financially or otherwise, please go to our FIRM website. Current needs include finances to allow us to continue providing supportive services to Syrian refugees, winter clothing for the Christmas event on December 16, and many volunteers for the Christmas event and wrapping party (December 13, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at FIRM, wrapping about 1,300-1,500 toys!). Also, please remember us in your prayers as we continue to love our new neighbors each day.

Zachary D. Darrah has been the Executive Director of FIRM for about the last 3 1/2 years. He has worked in cross-cultural ministry settings for nearly ten years in Fresno and has served on the pastoral staff of several churches in the Central Valley. Zachary is married to Mary, has three beautiful children (Raelyn, Zoey and Boston), one quirky dog and loves the Red Sox so much, he named his son Boston!

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