The Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program oversees hundreds of volunteers in Chittenden County. And now, with a new office opening in Rutland, the organization is recruiting new volunteers.
Officials with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program say they had 130 people show up to the first volunteer orientation in Rutland on Nov. 30.
On Thursday, there were about 50 people at two midday sessions, and roughly the same number was expected at an evening orientation.
“I want to volunteer for two reasons,” said Marsha McLean, who lives in Pawlet. “I want the refugees who are coming to this area to feel very welcome and like they can count on a lot of people to help them acclimatize ... get used to our culture and settle well in our community. I also want to help because I know there are a lot of people who aren’t for them and I want them to know that some people have their backs.”
Program officials say they’ll hold orientation sessions like this once a month and anyone interested needs to attend and fill out a lengthy online application. A background check and references are also required.
Volunteer coordinator Laurie Stavrand says jobs vary and include tutoring English, providing transportation, sorting donations or being a family friend or mentor. Ideally, Stavrand says they ask people to commit to at least a year.
Andover resident Carmen Macchia volunteers with several groups, but says helping the refugees feels especially important.
“This is something that deeply interests me,” Macchia said. “People are hurting so much in the world, particularly in Aleppo and Syria, and it just moved me … It’s something I can do.”
Laurie Stavrand told Macchia and others at the meeting that refugees come to Vermont with little or no possessions, no network and no familiarity with their new home, so a warm welcome, friendship and practical advice go a long way.