Immigration Legal Services Program
Helps Welcome Samuel and His Family
Samuel is new to Cincinnati, but he’s all too familiar with being considered a stranger.
Born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Samuel lived in fear of being persecuted for his ethnic heritage as a Banyamulenge Congolese. When he participated in a peaceful protest against the DRC’s government, his fears became reality.
Samuel’s own neighbors reported him to the police. Then, in a horrifying turn, those same neighbors — people Samuel had known his whole life — tortured him, burning Samuel’s feet and cutting them with machetes.
“People he grew up with started betraying him,” said Victor Bugandwana, Department of Justice Full Accredited Representative in Catholic Charities’ Immigration Legal Services Program. “Samuel came here with a lot of scars.”
Samuel had no choice but to flee the DRC. After a grueling trek through 11 countries, he and his family entered the United States through the Eagle Pass, Texas, port of entry and expressed their intent to apply for asylum.
In September 2018, a migrant support agency in Texas, Casa Marianella, contacted Sister Sandy Howe with the Sisters of Charity to see if they would receive the family. They traveled by bus from Texas to the Greyhound station in Cincinnati, where S. Sandy picked them up. In the days that followed, she connected them to Catholic Charities. Victor spoke with the family and ensured they met the criteria for affirmative asylum.
He then built the legal case, prepared all the paperwork, and sent it to government officials. In late 2019, Victor and S. Sandy accompanied Samuel and his family to Chicago for their asylum interview, during which they detailed the danger they would face if they were forced to return home.
Thankfully, the family was granted asylum on Dec. 1, 2020, a year after their interview. While the family waited, they learned English through Catholic Charities’ ESOL program. Catholic Charities also helped Samuel and his wife secure employment cards, so they could get jobs, and assisted them in applying for pandemic relief until they could work.
Today, Samuel and his wife are employed and they look forward to bringing Samuel’s three older children to the United States. With ongoing support from the Sisters of Charity and Catholic Charities, thousands of miles from the land of his birth, Samuel finally has found a place where he truly belongs.
Young Refugees Stand Side by Side with Volunteers to Fight
Hunger in Adams County
Recently, two Catholic Charities programs met in a deeply meaningful way when youth from the Refugee Resettlement Youth
Mentoring Program were able to give back to their new community by volunteering with the Food for All program to serve their neighbors in Adams County.
“They jumped right in,” said April Hoak, Food for All Coordinator. “Such generosity with their spirit, with their love, with their wanting to be part of the community here. It’s such a beautiful thing. You see friendships form. You see people with their hearts open to each other.”
The partnership is part of the Youth Mentoring Program’s mission to help young refugees experience positive civic and social engagement in their new communities. It also introduced the newcomers, who live primarily in the city, to a rural portion of Greater Cincinnati.
“One of the ways for someone to become more civically engaged is to find volunteer opportunities,” explained Donald Foley, the Youth Mentoring Coordinator. “It’s a great opportunity for the youth to give back to the community that has embraced them through their transition to their new life in the United States.” It also helps boost the young volunteers’ self-esteem and sense of purpose.
“It’s a great experience meeting new people, doing good things. Being a part of something special is good,” said Celestin, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo and one of the youth participants. Added Upshana, a youth mentee from Nepal: “I’m so happy because I do this work and I hope I will do it again. Today I feel so good, because other people helped me and I help them.”
The Refugee Youth Mentoring program connects young people, ages 15-24, with a volunteer adult mentor who supports their educational and vocational advancement. For the mentees, volunteering for Food for All was an opportunity to meet more people in the community, helping them build connections beyond their mentors.
“The introduction to American adults that the youth typically have little interaction with outside of the mentoring meetings has been a really great aspect,” says Donald. “And the adult Food for All volunteers were so excited to hear about the countries the youth had lived in and to hear about their cultures and how they continue to celebrate their cultures while living in the United States.”
Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation:
A Fresh Start for Kids and Families
Larry is a bright, energetic 5-year-old, and his mother, Jessica, has adored him since adopting him when he was very young. But when Larry ran from his daycare center and across a busy street, Jessica knew she needed help keeping her son safe and healthy.
Larry’s birth mother had battled addiction. Born with positive toxicology, Larry began to struggle with impulse control and aggression as he got older. Yet when Jessica applied for mental health services through Larry’s school, she was denied. That’s when Catholic Charities got involved — and helped change everything for this family!
Maribel Gonzalez, an Early Childhood Mental Health consultant, helped Jessica reapply for the support her son needed. Together, they got Larry accepted into the Camelot Project, a mental health services program involved with Larry’s school. In addition, Catholic Charities developed a plan of services with the school to help Larry have all his needs met while at school and to keep him safe within the building.
“I really admire and respect Jessica,” Maribel said. “She does all she can to make sure her son will succeed.” Now, Larry’s issues are under control, and the little boy has the resources he needs to thrive.
“I was happy to have Maribel standing by my side throughout this journey,” Jessica said. “Larry wouldn’t be where he is today without her assistance. Having Maribel present during the process helped me feel
secure and supported.”