Afghan Alliance of Maryland
Luminus was launched more than 40 years ago to welcome, embrace, and integrate people fleeing Vietnam. Today we face a similarly urgent call. With the evacuation of Afghanistan, the US military flew nearly 80,000 civilians out of Kabul, and of that, approximately 73,500 were either Afghans or other foreign nationals. Estimates suggest that eventually 95,000 Afghans will find their way to residency in the U.S. and need help from communities like ours, the Luminus Network for New Americans, formerly FIRN. Our mission meets this moment as it did four decades ago as it is certain that thousands of Afghans will arrive in Maryland.
How Can You Help
The Afghan Alliance of Maryland is made up of volunteers, donors, and advocates that catalyze direct and indirect support for arrivals. When you join, you will become a member of a network that shares information, develops social capital, and raises resources to support Afghan families. Our mission is to empower new Americans with agency so that they can support their own families and ultimately contribute to the fabric of American life.
What We Know:
- In July of 2021, Maryland was 5th among states in receiving Afghan arrivals.
- Afghan arrivals face systemic challenges beyond the material challenges they and their families already face.
- The nation’s resettlement and immigration systems were seriously damaged over the past four years, leaving little room to respond to a crisis like this one.
- Today’s legal protections and refugee infrastructure are weak and recent court decisions have undermined law.
- The patchwork of nonprofits and government agencies that used to coordinate and collaborate in challenges like this one have frayed resulting in a fragmented system where collaboration and coordination will be ever more difficult.
September 30, 2022 Update
This past weekend, in collaboration with the First Presbyterian Church of Howard County we hosted our 2nd Warm for Winter event. We had an amazing turn out and more than 29 families and 163 individuals attended the event. They were able to walk around to pick up food, blankets, winter coats, backpacks, toys, and books for children.
A young girl, Yarla, and her mother were the first ones at the event. Yarla saw a rainbow-colored coat that she absolutely loved! She told our staff she always wanted a colorful coat, so she was thrilled to have found the perfect coat for herself. Yarla also picked up a stuffed animal raccoon and some children books to take with her.
Many of the items were donations collected by the First Presbyterian Church of Howard County from the surrounding community. We also received 60 new coats in donations from UNIQLO and Project Linus of Howard County donated handmade blankets of all colors and sizes to help ensure families stay warm this winter.
Thank you to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for donating more than 1,000 pounds of food. Volunteers packed more than 50 bags of perishable food items, including peanut butter, waffle mix, canned fruit and vegetables, and pasta boxes for families to take with them.
With all the kind donations, we had an amazing event to keep families warm for this upcoming winter season.
September 23, 2022 Update
In collaboration with the English Learning Center at Howard Community College, we hosted our first English class orientation on Saturday. Thirteen people attended the session to complete an English assessment and to receive an introductory lesson on a free online platform that they will be using to complete self-guided classes. Word quickly spread about the classes and our next session for October is already full!
To help parents take initiative, volunteers have been guiding families through the process of school enrollment. Volunteers schedule the appointment with the school and then provide information to the parents on where to go and which documents to bring with them to enroll their children. Our amazing volunteers also continue to assist our Afghan neighbors by arranging medical appointments and providing transportation.
During the summer, we launched Project Safe Haven, an initiative to help Afghans and Ukrainians apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Our legal team has provided TPS screenings for 35 cases and applications for three Afghans have been submitted. If you would like to contribute to our Project Safe Haven initiative, please click here to donate and support Afghans and Ukrainians apply for TPS.
September 16, 2022 Update
This week, the Afghan Alliance team is assisting two new Afghan families resettle in the area and connecting them to local services in the community. The families recently arrived in Baltimore and one of the families came to the United States just a few months ago! Volunteers are addressing any immediate concerns or needs that may arise for our new neighbors.
Over the weekend, one of our amazing volunteers organized an activity to an indoor playground for families and children. Volunteers continue to coordinate medical and pediatrics appointments to ensure our Afghan neighbors are receiving the proper care and nutrition needed. Essential baby supplies, which included baby formula and diapers, were also dropped off to a family with a newborn.
With the help of our New American Staffing team, four Afghan job seekers were hired at The Hotel at Arundel Preserve. For some, this will be their first job with benefits and PTO and they are excited to start their new roles!
September 9, 2022 Update
The Afghan Alliance team, which includes our amazing group of volunteers, is continuing to assist Afghan families living in Baltimore. This week, three Afghan teenagers were accompanied to part-time job interviews at Burger King by a wonderful volunteer.
Several of the families requested household items, such as bed sheets, dinnerware, TV, and carpet, that our volunteers were able to drop off thanks to donations from the community. We are also coordinating a diaper distribution and an announcement has been shared with the families.
The Afghan Alliance team is currently working with Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) to provide online English courses for interested families. Planning is also underway to provide in person English courses at the Baltimore Welcome Center for the upcoming Fall season.
The New American Staffing team helped 12 Afghan job seekers prepare resumes and apply for positions within the hotel industry. The next step will be to assist them with the interview preparation. The New American Staffing team also connected 13 families to Community Engagement & Consultations Group Inc. for housing, health, and food services.
September 2, 2022 Update
This past weekend, the Luminus team held a Back-to-School event at our office to distribute backpacks and school supplies for children. With kind donations from Building Families for Children, APL Federal Credit Union, Prepare for Success, and the First Presbyterian Church of Howard County, we were able to give away more than 50 backpacks for elementary, middle, and high school students. Our team was so happy to help children pick their favorite color of backpacks and any essential school supplies such as pencils, pens, scissors, paper, glue sticks, markers, and even calculators. With their new supplies and backpack in hand, the families are ready for the upcoming academic year!
On Thursday, the New American Staffing team led a job training orientation for 15-20 SIV candidates in Anne Arundel County. Our Employment Specialist reviewed best practices for creating resumes such as including an objective summary and using action verbs. The team also reviewed strategies for answering some of the commonly asked questions during interviews. With the training completed, the candidates are eager to move on to the next step and finding employment.
August 19, 2022 Update
Volunteer Spotlight: Aelia Thakkar
Aelia Thakkar is a senior at River Hill High School and has been volunteering with Luminus. Aelia, along with other Luminus volunteers, organized a coin drive across six high schools in Howard County earlier in the year. They were able to raise a total of $1,000 in quarters to help Afghan refugees purchase items, such as laundry detergent.
“It was a really fun community experience and aside from that it was really enlightening to get to talk to the refugees . . . they exposed us to a perspective that a lot of us have not seen in this country which is that people are able to be positive and to overcome their struggles . . It was one of the best experiences I have had at Luminus.” – Aelia
August 12, 2022 Update
Luminus was invited to partake in the Operations Allies Welcome (OAW) Welcome Center, organized by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in College Park and Baltimore.
Our New American Staffing team was on site to provide information on employment services as part of the continued effort to help Afghan evacuees integrate successfully and safely into their new communities in Maryland. There were 30 different providers at the Welcome Center, including federal, state, local, and nongovernmental organizations.
We had over 30 individuals who signed up to receive employment support from our New American Staffing team. Several of the attendees emailed their resumes to our employment specialist who was able to submit job applications for them the same day.
This past week, the New American Staffing team helped 5 Afghan job seekers secure employment. Our team was able to enroll three Afghan men in Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) training that resulted in them finding jobs as truck drivers. Another Afghan man was able to retain a job in his field as an electrical engineer. And finally, our team supported an Afghan woman, who was previously a nurse in Afghanistan, find employment at CVS as a pharmacy assistant.
August 5, 2022 Update
This Summer, Luminus launched a new English Conversation Partners Program to facilitate English acquisition for our Afghan neighbors. Interested individuals were paired with volunteers over the span of eight weeks to help improve their practical conversation skills. We had a total of 13 pairs and many of the participants were Afghans along with other New Americans.
Our wonderful Program Development Intern led an initial training for all the volunteers which outlined some of the guidelines of the program including being mindful of people’s boundaries when it comes to discussing certain topics such as past experiences, cultures, religions, or politics. More importantly, we discussed the importance of being flexible and patient with the participants as many of them only had a fundamental understanding of English. Because the participants’ level of English varied, the curriculum included conversation topics and activities for different proficiency levels.
To kick off the program, we held an ice cream social on July 16th right outside the Luminus office to introduce the participants to their English conversation partners. The pairs did an ice breaker activity to get know each other better and discuss the logistics of the upcoming weeks such as where to meet, how often to meet, and topics of interest for participants and volunteers. Everyone was able to enjoy ice cream while getting to know their partners and lemon sorbet was a favorite among the Afghans!
Volunteers are continuing to meet their partners on a weekly basis and have the flexibility of deciding where to meet. Some pairs choose to meet outside at a park, go grocery shopping, cook together, or visit a library. This is wonderful mutually beneficial opportunity; our volunteers are able to interact directly with families and learn from them and their experiences while the families are able to receive the attentive support and care they need.
Before the program concludes at the end of August, volunteers and participants will be invited to partake in a final potluck. We hope to hold another English Conversation Partners session in Fall. If you are interested in participating in the next English Conversation Partners Program, please email email@example.com.
July 29, 2022 Update
Last week, we shared the impactful work that we have been able to accomplish with your help to support our Afghan neighbors. Thanks to our incredible donors and volunteers, our work continues in addressing the needs of Afghan families.
At the Baltimore Welcome Center, sewing classes remain a favorite for many Afghan women. Last week, the women learned to make small multi-purpose pouches. They first traced rectangles on pattern paper to cut out into small pieces. Then, they selected a fabric, that had a denim or canvas like texture, and a colorful zipper to place on the top of the pouch. Once everyone had selected their materials, the instructor guided the women on how to sew the pieces together. It was wonderful to see all the Afghan women come together and help each other.
In her spare time, one of the Afghan women had sewn a traditional Afghan dress, known as Punjabi, that she brought to the Welcome Center. The dress was a beautiful teal color, accompanied by white pants and a multi-colored scarf. The young woman was eager to share her creation with other women who were all impressed by her craftsmanship.
In addition, our Afghan neighbors continue to participate in English classes at the Baltimore Welcome Center. Last week sessions were led by two volunteer instructors who helped a family with their pronunciation. Our Employment Specialists have been restlessly supporting Afghan job seekers with their resumes and submitted employment applications for 12 candidates.
July 22, 2022 Update
In August 2021, with the withdrawal of US and NATO forces and the Taliban takeover, more than 76,000 Afghans were airlifted from Kabul. It remains one of the largest airlifts in history. After months of waiting at U.S. installations across the Middle East and Europe, many Afghans were given visas to seek refuge in the United States.
The past six months have been an incredible journey for Luminus, with your help we have been able to support our new Afghan neighbors. In collaboration with many organizations, supporters, donors, and volunteers, the Afghan Alliance of Maryland came together to address the most urgent concerns and needs of Afghan families.
We are excited to share some of this work and the stories from the past six months in the Afghan Alliance of Maryland 6-Month Impact Report.
July 15, 2022 Update
Classes are continuing at the Baltimore Welcome Center. Every Friday, Afghan families can participate in English classes and the women can also participate in sewing classes. This week, the Afghan women made several beautiful dresses and shirts for themselves and their daughters. You can view some of the pictures below!
With continued support from our generous donors, we have received additional items for Afghan families including household items and more bikes that will help our Afghan neighbors get to work more easily. Luminus also launched the Transportation Partners Initiative. Currently, 82% of the immigrants and refugees we support do not have access to a car. With your support, we can raise funds to cover transportation costs for our Afghan neighbors, reimburse volunteers for their mileage, and recruit transportation interns to provide rides. To support this initiative, please click here.
This week, our New American Staffing Team connected with four companies to discuss opportunities for partnerships. They also helped two Afghan job seekers apply for positions, which included a managerial position and a role in communications, and referred two other Afghans to classes that will help advance their careers.
Next week, we will be sharing our Afghan Alliance Impact Report with you. It captures, data, stories, and our work with Afghans over the past six months. We are excited to share our progress with you so please be on the lookout.
July 8, 2022 Update
We hope you had a wonderful 4th of July weekend. We kicked off 4th of July celebrations with Race4TheWorld at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia. We had an incredible turnout and more than 180 registrants joined to honor the journey of immigrants and refugees. In Baltimore, one of our amazing volunteers invited Afghan families for a potluck picnic, which included a barbecue and games for children, to celebrate Independence Day.
On Thursday, one of our interns led a volunteer training session for those who will be helping our Afghan neighbors practice their English skills. The training included information on cultural competence, expectations, code of conduct, and logistics. We are excited for the families to meet with their conversation partners for the first time on Saturday through an ice cream social.
A team of volunteers is continuing to lead sewing classes every Friday in Baltimore. This week, the class will practice how to cut fabrics using different patterns. We also received four sewing machine donations to help with the initiative. With continued support, four additional bikes were donated for our Afghan neighbors who will be able to use the bikes to get to work or school. Several household items, including vacuums and irons, were also donated which will be of tremendous use for our Afghan families.
July 1, 2022 Update
This week the Afghan Alliance team enrolled three Afghan children in summer camp programs in Baltimore. They will be able to participate in fun summer activities including swimming lessons! Thanks to our generous donors who covered the cost of the summer camp fees.
The team continues to coordinate medical and pediatric appointments for Afghan families and facilitate transportation as well. They also arranged WIC appointments for two families so they can obtain the necessary supplemental food, health referrals, and nutritional education.
Another sewing class will be held this Friday for Afghan women in Baltimore. After the last session, one of the Afghan Alliance staff member took two women to Jo Ann to help them pick out fabrics to use for sewing clothes for themselves.
Lastly, the Afghan Alliance team and volunteers coordinated a meeting with Maryland Office of Refugees and Asylees (MORA) to be informed about the benefits eligible to Afghan families beyond the 90 days of resettlement. The case managers of the families at IRC will be communicating this information to them.
June 24, 2022 Update
This week, volunteers with the Afghan Alliance provided educational classes on diabetes to Afghan men and women living in Baltimore. Each session lasted an hour and was led by a physician and a nurse with the help of our staff who interpreted the information in Dari. The purpose of the session was to provide educational information on how to control and prevent diabetes by managing a healthy diet, considering calorie intake, and exercising.
On Friday, we held the first orientation session for the sewing project and eight Afghan women participated. In Afghanistan, the women used hand crank sewing machines, therefore, the session was also an introduction on how to use automatic sewing machines. After a few weeks of training, our goal is to support the women in identifying opportunities that require their skills.
Lastly, we want to highlight a new initiative that will be starting this summer. With the help of volunteers, our team is launching a new conversation partner project that aims to build community and encourage our Afghan neighbors to practice their English. Eleven Afghan families have already signed up to participate and they will be paired with a volunteer who will meet with them regularly to help practice their English skills.
June 17, 2022 Update
The Afghan Alliance team continues to advocate on behalf of tenants in Baltimore by addressing ongoing issues concerning the apartment complex. This week, meetings were arranged with the leasing office to review information regarding the lease and utility bills. Our team is also supporting the efforts by translating documents and providing interpretation services. Furthermore, our team has been helping an expecting Afghan mother who arrived in the Baltimore area just two weeks ago and has not been able to seek any medical assistance in the past 4-5 months. Prenatal appointments were set-up to ensure the expecting mother receives the care she needs.
With the help of our wonderful volunteers, we continue to support Afghan families. On Tuesday and Thursday of this week, one of our volunteers assisted a family living in Baltimore complete their online green card application. Information from the passport, employment authorization card, social security, and I-94 must be included in the application, and as the family does not speak English, our volunteer entered their personal information on their behalf. An attorney was present on site to review the information and to answer any questions. Once our legal team has examined the information for accuracy, the application will then be submitted to USCIS. Additionally, one of our new Afghan neighbors residing in Towson had a need filled by one of our generous donors. Our volunteers were able to drop off the requested items, which included baby supplies, to the family’s home in Towson.
This past week, the New American Staffing team helped two Afghans secure employment at Walmart. The location is perfect because it’s only a 20-minute walk from their homes and eliminates the need for a car. We have also received a bicycle donation for them, which lessens their commute time to work even further! The New American Staffing team continues to attend networking events and meetings to refer candidates. With new partnerships, we can help our Afghan neighbors secure fulfilling jobs.
Lastly, we wanted to share that our team has expanded this summer and we are fortunate to welcome nine interns! They will all play a critical role in helping build our programs and providing support to our teams. Some of the positions that our interns are currently filling include Program Development, Housing Specialist, Social Services, Legal Aid, Digital Media, Researcher, and Data Analyst. We are incredibly grateful for all the support we receive from our interns and volunteers; without their help we would not be able to provide many of the services to our Afghan neighbors and accomplish our goals of serving the community.
June 10, 2022 Update
In Afghanistan, women learn how to sew from a very early age. That is why this week our Afghan Alliance team conducted a planning meeting to launch a new economic empowerment initiative to help Afghan women capitalize on their existing handcrafting and sewing skills to create sustainable income for their families.
Thanks to the efforts of volunteers from Brown Memorial Church, this past Sunday we were able to coordinate a tenant gathering in Baltimore City to address concerns regarding some of the conditions of the apartment complexes. Flyers were translated in Dari and Pashto to invite Afghan families to the gathering. Additionally, thanks to the support of several generous donors, we were able to provide new computers to two Afghan families. With these new computers, the two families will be more easily able to apply for jobs, access community resources, and stay connected with family members who remain in Afghanistan.
Accessing reliable transportation to and from work has been an ongoing issue for many of our Afghan neighbors. To address these barriers, our New American Staffing team is currently working to build and expand partnerships with local community members and organizations in hopes of bridging the gap in transportation needs. This week, our Employment Specialists were able to connect with the Dar Al-Taqwa Islamic Center to organize ride sharing opportunities. We are also excited to share that with the help of our New American Staffing team, one Afghan job seeker landed an interview with a potential employer this week. Our team helped support the candidate by providing him transportation to the interview and helping him prepare for the meeting by reviewing potential interview questions.
We are eager to launch several new initiatives in the upcoming months that work to empower our new Afghan neighbors and address some of the ongoing challenges they face. Stay tuned to find out more about these initiatives.
June 3, 2022 Update
This week, our volunteers provided support to our Afghan neighbors in Baltimore City by collaborating with interpreters to help families enter their information into the digital application system for green card. Our team conducted immigration orientations and legal consultations for families who recently relocated to Prince George’s County. Our volunteers provided transportation to the families from their homes in Prince George County to Silver Spring where the sessions were held.
Thanks to our wonderful donors and volunteers, we held a donation distribution for culturally appropriate clothing for women and household items, which included new blenders! Our volunteers also helped a family setup their new apartment by picking up furniture from a donor in Howard County and bringing it to the family’s home in Baltimore City.
Our Afghan Alliance Team coordinated meetings between the Baltimore City community organizers to address concerns regarding the conditions of some of the apartments where our Afghan families are residing. The goal of the meeting was to facilitate communication and think of solutions to resolve the issues the families have brought up.
Lastly, we provided a WIC Shopping Orientation to Afghan families in Baltimore. WIC is a federally funded program that provides healthy and nutritious food for pregnant women, new mothers, and mothers with children under the age of five. As many of the families are new to the WIC program, our volunteers helped the Afghan mothers shop and locate WIC approved items in the grocery stores.
May 27, 2022 Update
Our team continues to provide intake assessments for new Afghan families to identify needs and available resources. We are also assisting families with any government benefit questions with the help of a wonderful volunteer who has previous experience working for the Department of Social Services.
This week interested families were invited to participate in the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Convention taking place this Memorial Day weekend at the Baltimore Convention Center. The event will take place over three days and will include multiple sessions ranging from immigration services, youth competitions, and cooking contests. A special thank you to Dar Al-Taqwa for providing free tickets to Afghan families so they can attend the convention.
Our New American Staffing team is in full force, trying to secure employment opportunities for our Afghan neighbors. They participated in a virtual information session to network with employers and build partnerships to refer families for potential job opportunities. Our team has been working diligently in crafting professional candidate summaries and sending them to various employers. These summaries capture the breadth of expertise, knowledge, and skills all our candidates bring! Our team also continues to assist our Afghan neighbors with drafting resumes and submitting job applications.
May 20, 2022 Update
Our team continues to lead legal consultations, provided intake assessments and medical emergency assistance to Afghan families. More importantly, our team coordinated a meeting to identify solutions in the recent reduction of public benefits for Afghan families. With the help of volunteers and translators, we held our first Green Card application session to assist eligible Afghans apply for permanent residence. In order to apply for a Permanent Resident Card, individuals must submit the Form I-485, which is an 18-page government form that contains terms and language that can be confusing for many people to understand regardless of their proficiency in English. Our team will hold another session next week to continue assisting our Afghan neighbors gain permanent residency in the United States.
In addition, our New American Staffing team conducted another Cultural & Employment Orientation at the Anne Arundel Welcome Center for 11 Afghans in English, Dari and Pashto. Most of the participants are newly arrived Afghans who are in the process of job searching. The New American Staffing team provided an overview on the cultural values and beliefs in the United States. They discussed the process of seeking employment and how to retain employment after the initial hire. The training also covered topics on professional resume writing, mock interviews, and the short and long terms goals of the participants. For our team, the next goal is to ensure the participants can secure jobs and reliably commute to their new jobs. We were delighted to learn that all the participants were pleased with the content and deliverables of the training session!
May 13, 2022 Update
To celebrate Mother’s Day and show our gratitude and appreciation, Luminus staff and volunteers distributed more than 30 gift bags to Afghan mothers in Baltimore City on Monday. The gift bags included goodies such as chocolates, cards, and silk scarves donated by Temple Isaiah.
Furthermore, our New American Staffing team led an Entry-Level Job Placement Orientation for Afghan families in English, Dari and Pashto at the Baltimore Welcome Center. The team started the presentation by giving a cultural orientation which included information on the history, values, and culture of the U.S. The second portion of the orientation provided an overview on the employment process from how to search for jobs, tailor resumes, and prepare for interviews. The presentation also covered topics such as wages and taxes, professions in demand, rights of employees, and dress code.
Our team continues to support our Afghan neighbors by scheduling legal consultations and offering legal guidance. Our volunteers also continue to play a vital role by providing transportation to Afghan families. Many of the Afghan families do not have access to transportation and without the help of our generous volunteers, they would not be able to attend their medical appointments.
May 6, 2022 Update
This week, we are beyond grateful to Brown Memorial Church for hosting an Eid celebration for 18 Afghan families living in Baltimore. The beautiful event included dinner catered from The Helmand restaurant in Baltimore City. The food was delicious, and everyone especially loved the fernini, a rice pudding dessert with cardamom and pistachio. The women in attendance created henna designs and the children received Eidi, which is a gift given to children by their elders during the Eid celebration. It was so special to see everyone sitting together and celebrating, and a huge thanks to the volunteers who led activities and games for the children. Check out the great photos from Eid below!
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Afghan Alliance volunteers helped organize and distribute toiletries and feminine hygiene products donated by St. Francis Neighborhood Center, baby supplies donated by The Jewish Federation of Howard County including items such as diapers, clothes, rash cream, wipes, and toys. With the help of volunteers, we also held a clothing distribution event at the Afghan Welcome Center in Baltimore. Women and girls from 22 different families living in Baltimore were able to select culturally appropriate clothing from the donations.
This week, Afghan Alliance continued with immigration consultations and resume writing sessions for our Afghan neighbors. Our staff and volunteers also continue efforts to support Afghan families with medical appointments, grocery shopping, and English classes.
A special thank you to all our partners, sponsors, and volunteers for your generous help!
April 29, 2022 Update
Afghan Alliance programming has been moving full steam ahead this week as we coordinated donation distributions and transportation assistance from several volunteers. On Monday, we set up shop outside the Baltimore Welcome Center where families could pick up household items that they still needed to make their apartments feel like home. Families walked from their apartments with grocery carts to load up on kitchen supplies, blankets, towels, TVs, and more. Additionally, on Tuesday, several volunteers helped deliver baby kits to families with young children. The kits included baby clothes, diapers, wipes, toys, books, and clothes. This would not have been possible without the generous donation of supplies from the Jewish Federation of Howard County. Special thanks to all who contributed to these efforts.
Marking the conclusion of Ramadan, Eid is an Islamic tradition which ends the month long fast. Taking place this weekend, families will come together to celebrate through prayer, festive meals, and gift giving. Henna is also a common practice by women during religious celebrations. To celebrate, we distributed henna to the Afghan women who were excited to decorate intricate patterns on their hands and feet in celebration of Eid. This would not have been possible without the fundraising efforts of our High School Afghan Alliance Volunteers. To learn more about the work of our High School volunteers, check out this article that was published by WAMU – “No One Else Is Doing It”: High School Students Fundraise For Afghan Refugees Living In Hotels
Lastly, we want to send thanks to our awesome transportation volunteers who have supported several Afghan families with grocery shopping over the last three weeks. Without the help of volunteers, like you, we would not be successful in meeting the various needs of our new Afghan neighbors.
April 22, 2022 Update
While many Afghan families share similar experiences of their journey to the US, no two stories are the same. Mohammed Aljery* and his wife arrived in the United States just ten days ago. At the Baltimore Afghan Welcome Center this week, we had the chance to speak with Mohammed, who shared part of his story with us.
Following the collapse of the Afghan government, Mohammed feared for the safety of his family, stating that “nothing felt normal in Afghanistan.” As a former Project Manager for several government sponsored infrastructure development projects, Mohammed worried that he and his family would be targeted by Taliban forces taking control of Kabul. This led Mohammed to contact one of his former employers to find a way out of the country, which connected him to the United States Department of State.
“The Department of State coordinated our evacuation,” said Mohammed. “First, we were taken from Kabul to Islamabad, Pakistan where we stayed on a military base for about one week. From Islamabad, they took us to a base in Qatar.” For one month, Mohammed and his wife Aamaal* waited to learn of the next steps in their journey to safety. Their lives were filled with feelings of uncertainty, but they maintained hope that soon they would find a place to resettle without fear of persecution.
On April 12, 2022, Mohammed and Aamaal finally arrived in the United States. Being resettled through the International Rescue Committee, the pair stayed in a hotel before moving into their new apartment building in Baltimore – a building which now houses 37 recently resettled Afghans families. Situating themselves in their new home, Mohammed was able to connect with his fellow Afghans via an apartment group chat where he first learned about Luminus. Only eight days after his arrival in the US, Mohammed was in communication with Shakera, the Luminus Afghan Alliance Coordinator, who conducted a needs assessment, enrolled him in a resume writing workshop at our Baltimore Welcome Center, and arranged transportation to and from a grocery store in the area.
“I am excited and hopeful for the future. Everyone here has been so generous,” said Mohammed during our interview. When asked what he was excited for, he quickly responded, “The job opportunities. I want to be a Project Coordinator to better understand the responsibilities, standards, regulations, and expectations of the job here in the US.” Eventually, Mohammed hopes to become a Portfolio Manager, but he anticipates this will take about five to ten years.
“Everything is different here,” said Mohammed, “but I am relieved that my wife and I finally feel safe”.
*name has been changed to maintain confidentiality
Sending a special thanks to the Afghan Alliance community for your continued support to families like Mohammed’s. We could not do this work without the help and dedication of our vast Afghan Alliance Network.
April 15, 2022 Update
Thanks to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Ellicott City who hosted Iftar for families staying at the Jessup Hotel last Friday. Iftar is a religious observance of Ramadan, where families gather to break their fast after sunset. Volunteers welcomed the families into the congregation by providing transportation, setting tables, and cooking traditional Afghan dishes. Upon their arrival, families sat together at large tables and awaited sunset before opening the evening with prayer and a snack. Following their snack of dates, mandarins, and water, the men and women split into two rooms where they conducted a longer prayer prior to eating dinner. Volunteers served the families a range of traditional dishes including samosas, nan, qabli, beryani, shoor nakhod, falafel, chapli kabob, ferini and mixed fruit, before joining them at the tables to eat with their new Afghan neighbors. The families were overjoyed to have such an elaborate celebration. Sending a special thanks to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Ellicott City for coordinating a wonderful event!
Our resume workshops at the Baltimore Welcome Center have continued to be a remarkable success. For the past few weeks, volunteers have supported Afghan individuals in developing resumes, to help them advance in ongoing job searches. So far, nearly 60 resumes have been developed, and several clients have already found employment. Knowing how essential employment is, we are excited to announce that two Employment Specialists have joined the Luminus team to support Afghans in finding jobs.
April 8, 2022 Update
Programming for the week started on Saturday as volunteer drivers helped us bring families from the Jessup hotel to the BIG Baltimore Kite Fest at Patterson Park. The afternoon was filled with sunshine and smiles as children had the opportunity to make their own kites, while their parents took some time to relax, play frisbee, and explore the park.
On Tuesday, a team of dedicated high school volunteers concluded their Coin Drive by distributing quarters and laundry detergent to the families staying in hotels. Raising over $1,000 across several high schools, we are so grateful for the initiative these volunteers have shown in supporting Afghan families in the community.
As families continue to move into Baltimore City, volunteers met with jobseekers at the Afghan Welcome Center in Baltimore to develop resumes. Finding employment is a critical step to helping families settle into their new homes. Special thanks to the volunteers who have been helping with this process.
The Luminus office was piled high with donations this week thanks to the generous work of several organizations. Project Linus of Howard County delivered 30, handmade blankets to be distributed to families in need. The blankets range in size, color, and pattern, but one thing is certain – they will provide a warm hug to those who receive them. Similarly, the Jewish Federation of Howard County donated two car loads of baby kits including everything from diapers to baby clothes and more. Lastly, Bolton Street Synagogue collected over $600 of donations to provide gift cards for the purchase of shoes. Sending a large thank you to Project Linus of Howard County, The Jewish Federation of Howard County, and Bolton Street Synagogue.
In the News
The Afghan Alliance has been featured in two media outlets this week. Check out the articles below:
Group of Refugees Resettling in Baltimore Region after Fleeing the Taliban Fox45 News – featuring Mariam Alimi with Luminus CEO Mike Mitchell and Anne Arundel Emergency Management Director Preeti Emrick
Driven from Afghanistan by the Taliban takeover, refugees in Maryland ‘do our best to find our way’ Baltimore Sun – featuring Wali Zhadran
Volunteers – Please continue to be on the lookout for emails with upcoming opportunities. Want to get involved? Sign up here to become a volunteer!
April 1, 2022 Update
This week, thanks to the Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County and Asylee Women’s Enterprise (A.W.E.), we were able to host a Women’s Group at the Columbia Welcome Center. Led by a social worker from A.W.E., we invited women who have been staying in the hotels to spend a few hours sharing, creating, and relaxing. The session included mindfulness exercises and art activities, while the women shared their dreams for the future.
With incredible collaboration of Brown Memorial Church, Bet Am Synagogue, and Memorial Episcopal Church, English classes have begun for families living in Baltimore. Also this week in Baltimore, we held another resume writing and job search session as we work to support Afghans in finding employment.
In addition to programs and events, the Afghan Alliance team works to help with individual needs. From providing interpretation for a family to complete the I-485 form to register for permanent residence to helping a family get a birth certificate for their newborn son, we have been supporting families in navigating life in the US. As always, a huge thanks to all the volunteers making this possible.
Volunteers – Please continue to be on the lookout for emails with upcoming opportunities. Want to get involved? Sign up here to become a volunteer!
March 25, 2022 Update
This morning, an immigration attorney led a “Know Your Rights” presentation at the BWI Afghan Welcome Center. This important session was attended by over 40 Afghan families to better understand immigration law, what they should expect, and how they can be preparing for the future. Thanks to the Annapolis Immigration Justice Network for your support with this event.
Our volunteers are as busy as ever with this week full of English classes, resume writing, transportation to pharmacies and grocery stores, apartment set-ups, Headstart applications, and more! Thank you to our volunteers for all you continue to do.
Of course, none of this work would be possible without our donors! This week we are pleased to take a moment to thank them. On behalf of Luminus and the volunteers of the Afghan Alliance of Maryland, we thank all of you.
Barbara Lawson Fund
Community Foundation of Howard County
EWE Spirit Foundation
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation
The Jain Family Foundation
The Reis Foundation
Robert, Janice, Margot, Sara and Anne Watson Fund
Susan and Steven Porter Family Fund
Towson Presbyterian Church
Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County
March 18, 2022 Update
While we are seeing more and more Afghan families move out of the hotels, there are still many who remain in the hotels. The Afghan Alliance is ever-changing as we work to support all Afghan families. Our transportation volunteers are becoming even more crucial to make sure Afghan families can attend various events and access resources. Here is a highlight of what we have been up to this past week:
Esperanza Center Health Clinic
Our transportation volunteers braved the icy and snowy Saturday morning to bring 10 Afghans to the Esperanza Center for a health clinic. We are extremely grateful for the Esperanza Center’s partnership and the volunteer doctors and interpreters who are ensuring families have access to medical care. Another thanks to Memorial Episcopal Church for providing a hot halal lunch and supply kits for each patient!
With generous donation of gift cards from Episcopal Refugee and Immigrant Center Alliance (ERICA) as well the help of a team of drivers and shoppers, numerous Afghan families were able to go to Burlington to purchase household items and new clothes. With many families settling into apartments, basics such as dishware and cookware are now needed. If you would like to donate gift cards, or help with shopping, please get in touch with us.
On Sunday, March 13, the Columbia Afghan Welcome Center was transformed into a hair salon! Afghan men, women, girls and boys received haircuts thanks to four stylists from Studio 325 in Gambrills. A special thanks to Paul Lemle, who reached out to Jen Carter, owner of Studio 325, and our volunteer drivers for making this possible.
The Columbia Afghan Welcome Center has drop-in hours – which offers Afghan students, younger siblings and parents a chance to do homework, relax, and play games. This week, the Howard County Library led activities during one of the sessions and everyone had a blast!
Volunteers who met with jobseekers at the Columbia Afghan Welcome Center to create resumes. Having a resume is a critical first step in the process of finding employment, which will give more stability for the Afghan families. Thanks to the volunteers who have been helping with this process.
HCPSS held another school enrollment session to ensure that all children in the Howard County hotels have access to education. Continuing their involvement, Dar Al-Taqwa hosted the event and coordinated clothing distribution.
NPR shout out
The housing quandary faced by Afghan refugee families was featured on NPR this week. Our Afghan Alliance Coordinator, Shakera Rahimi was interviewed, with a shout out to Luminus. Have a listen to this NPR Report on Afghan housing.
Thank you for your continued support. We look forward to another great week, with a special celebration of the Afghan New Year, Nowruz.
March 11, 2022 Update
This week has been another great one. Howard County Executive, Dr. Calvin Ball joined us as we opened the Columbia Afghan Welcome Center, and it is already being put to good use. This space will hold English classes, after school activities and homework help, donations, distributions and more. Howard County Public School System used the space as they partnered with The Neediest Kids Program to do clothing distribution for all the families yesterday.
For Afghan families at the BWI hotels, our English classes continue throughout the week. On Saturday, we had an awesome group of volunteers that brought families to a nearby park. The sunny afternoon was full of playing (basketball, soccer, guitar, and tag!), swinging, blowing bubbles, and laughing. One of the moms shared photos she had taken and told us, “It was a really beautiful day, everyone was happy and smiling.”
We are grateful to all the individuals, organizations and communities who have been spending countless hours to support our new Afghan neighbors. From providing direct services and donations to advocating for Afghan families, we recognize and thank you all for your contributions.
- The Maryland Afghan Refugee Crisis Committee has been integral in supporting Afghan families for many months. They have coordinated visits with families, provided food donations, and have been helping families move. They have provided translations and made it possible to have Friday prayers at the BWI Afghan Welcome Center.
- Dar Al-Taqwa Islamic Center continues to work tirelessly to support Afghan families in Howard County. They have provided donations, English classes, Quran teaching classes, and played a major role in ensuring that children were enrolled in school. The Dar Al-Taqwa community has also ensured that Afghan families have transportation for Friday prayers.
- Islamic Center of Maryland in Gaithersburg has been a great resource, always available when there are families in need. From food delivery to gift cards for diapers and baby formula, they have gone above and beyond to provide for families.
- We also want to thank the Al-Ramah School in Windsor Mill and the Anne Arundel County Office of Community Engagement for donating backpacks, school supplies, and games for families. The children and their parents were so happy to receive these supplies.
As you can see, this is truly a group effort. These highlights are just a few of the many groups who are organizing in support of Afghan families. We know we have a lot more work to do and that we are only going to be able to do it together. We remain committed to providing long-term support to Afghan families. A huge thank you to all the groups and individuals supporting that goal.
March 2, 2022 Update
We have had an extremely busy month since our Afghan Summit on February 6th and we are excited to let you know what we have been up to and what we have planned for March.
Thanks to a partnership with the Office of Emergency Management in Anne Arundel County, we were able to create the Afghan Welcome Center as a pop-up space located near the hotels that provide housing for Afghan families. The Welcome Center has been put to good use in February with programs and events including:
- Weekly English classes for women, men, and children
- Resume writing workshops and job fairs
- School enrollment
- Jummah (Friday) Prayers
- Donation distribution – toys, coats, and more
- Meetings for volunteers on housing and legal services
We are happy to announce we have opened an Afghan Welcome Center in Howard County and are excited to provide a space for these needed services in Howard County as well.
With the help of dedicated volunteers, we have been able to meet with Afghan families to identify needs. The top priorities include safe housing, employment, school enrollment, obtaining a driver’s license, and legal services. Not surprisingly, medical care has been one of the most urgent needs expressed by the Afghan families. In collaboration with Esperanza Center, a part of Catholic Charities in Baltimore, we were able to coordinate a day-long health clinic held on February 12. Memorial Episcopal Church provided a hot Halal lunch and snacks as well as supply kits for each person. Skilled childcare was provided on site by the Children’s Disaster Services of the Church of the Brethren.
Afghan families in Maryland have experienced an outpouring of support from a broad array of regional government agencies, interfaith communities, and individual volunteers in these past weeks. This warm welcome for our newest neighbors is so very important and appreciated.
On February 6th, we welcomed nearly 300 people at the virtual Afghan Summit hosted by United Nations Association of the National Capital Area Chapter and Luminus Network for New Americans. At this summit, attendees got an introduction to inclusion and Afghan cultural competency, as well as heard firsthand about the current and future needs of recently arrived Afghans in Maryland.