Over the past several months, IINE has resettled more than 500 Afghan evacuees while simultaneously providing intensive case management and essential services to Haitians displaced by natural disasters and political unrest, children who crossed the U.S. border unaccompanied, and Ukrainians uprooted by war in their homeland. While each of these individuals has their own story, collectively, their numbers are reflected in a grim milestone identified earlier this year by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR: 100 million people are now forcibly displaced worldwide. 

This human rights crisis has created an unparalleled and unexpected need for refugee services in our communities. Fortunately, it has also catalyzed vital collaboration between resettlement agencies, volunteers, donors, and community groups. The relationships built during this time of emergency have provided fertile grounds from which to grow a pilot project formalizing partnerships to support one another, welcoming refugees to New England, and guiding them toward security and self-sufficiency – “Resettle Together: Community Sponsorship at IINE.” 

What is community sponsorship?  

Community sponsorship is a collaborative effort between carefully selected groups of volunteers, and agency resettlement staff, working together under a formal agreement to prepare for and welcome refugees into their communities. 

Community sponsorship programs come in different formats; Resettle Together will be a resettlement agency-led co-sponsor program.  

What will community sponsors do? Under the supervision of experienced and attentive IINE staff, sponsor groups will be trained to provide core resettlement services, including locating and setting up appropriate housing, airport pickups, cultural orientation, school enrollment, financial support and in-kind donations. 

Community sponsors will become guides, advocates, and friends to refugees, asylees, and those seeking asylum in New England. Community sponsorship is an opportunity for community members, especially those far from resettlement agencies, to be directly involved in providing newcomers with assistance, guidance, and mentorship needed to gain independence in their new homes. 

How is community sponsorship different from other resettlement programs?  

Unlike a more “traditional” refugee resettlement approach, with community sponsorship, groups take on some of the core services performed by IINE’s case specialists and volunteers. This model not only adds capacity for IINE staff members who provide intensive services, but also allows community members to better understand the refugee experience and build direct relationships with arriving families. 

Who is the ideal community sponsor group?  

The ideal community sponsor group is made up of open-minded and generous people who are invested in their communities and excited about welcoming and supporting new neighbors. Knowledge of multiple languages, familiarity with the immigrant experience, willingness to learn, and a heightened sense of curiosity are all also helpful. 

A community sponsor group is usually made up of five to eight people willing to contribute five to ten hours per week for four months or more. Community sponsor groups commit to raising $10,000 to support the family with whom they have been matched. While the financial component is important, being able to commit time and (non-monetary) resources are also vital elements for success.   

5 reasons you should become a community sponsor  

  1. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become directly involved and have a life-changing impact on a refugee or asylee family.   
  2. It will give you a new perspective on the immigrant experience and what it means to start over in a foreign community.  
  3. It’s a wonderful opportunity to welcome new neighbors and show them the ins and outs of your beloved community.  
  4. As this is a pilot program, your experience and feedback will help IINE to design, shape, and improve this resource.  
  5. It’s an opportunity for communities, especially those far from resettlement agencies and in more rural areas, to welcome newcomers and be directly involved in providing them with assistance, guidance, and mentorship.  

To learn more about “Resettle Together: Community Sponsorship at IINE,” please visit our website at https://iine.org/get-involved/#CommunitySponsorship or email Jessica Cirone, Associate Director of Community Sponsorship, at jcirone@iine.org  

Meet Jessica Cirone, Associate Director of Community Sponsorship 

Jessica has extensive experience working in refugee resettlement, immigration, and workforce development. Most recently, she worked with Church World Service and Community Sponsorship Hub on the community sponsorship technical assistance and training processes at the national level. Right before these projects, Jessica was the Senior Director of Refugee Services at Jewish Vocational Service for seven years. Her prior work includes helping community members achieve economic stability with LIFT-Boston, directing the Yemeni Refugee Program at a nonprofit social service agency, and running educational programs in New York, NY. Jessica has also worked with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Meheba Refugee Settlement, located in Northwestern Zambia. She holds a Master’s Degree in International Development, with a concentration in refugee resettlement practices from UNSW Australia.