One family of recently arrived refugees asked for warm socks. Another asked for a rice cooker. A third asked for a cozy blanket.
Saint’s Place will be able to fulfill these requests, and those of 29 other families, thanks in part to the Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal, according to Isabel Miller, executive director of Saint’s Place.
The mission of Pittsford-based Saint’s Place is to welcome and care for newly arrived refugee families by providing the families with clothing, furniture, household goods, tutoring and scholarships. The organization does those things day in and day out, but once a year it also provides Christmas baskets to a number of its refugee families. This year Saint’s Place partnered with Catholic Family Center in Rochester to find out what specific items select families would most like to receive, Miller said.
Saint’s Place was able to purchase those specific items — including the socks, rice cooker and blanket — for the baskets using funds from a Hunger Relief Grant the not-for-profit received earlier in the year. These grants are funded in part by proceeds from the Christmas Appeal, and if this funding was not available, Saint’s Place would have to take money away from some of its other programs in order to fund the Christmas basket program, Miller said.
The most well-known of Saint’s Places programs is its clothing closet, located on the grounds of St. John of Rochester Parish in Fairport, Miller said. It is the largest clothing closet in Rochester and provides clothing for approximately 150 people each month, she said. Clothing refugees is Saint’s Place’s first priority, but as the number of refugees arriving in Rochester has decreased in recent years due to new federal regulations, the clothing closet also has opened its doors to 15 not-for-profit agencies in the Rochester area as well, Miller said.
“We’re very busy at the clothing closet,” she remarked.
Another of Saint’s Place’s main areas of focus is furnishing the apartments of newly arrived refugees. The organization has a stockpile of donated furniture and household items for refugees who are setting up their new homes.
“Through donations from this wonderful community, they walk in from having lived in tents to an apartment with carpets on the floors, tables, chairs, end tables,” Miller said.
Saint’s Place also provides refugees with brand-new beds as well as linens, she added.
Saint’s Place volunteers tutor refugees of all ages, helping the refugee children with their homework and helping the adults practice their English-language skills and learn how to pay bills.
“As they get more advanced, we help them prepare for the citizenship exams,” Miller said.
One of Saint’s Place’s newest initiatives is a scholarship program, which the organization implemented after research showed that young-adult refugees were in a vulnerable position, she said.
“If they get here and they’re 18 or older, they’ve aged out of schools. They take the first lowest-paying job they can get,” Miller said. “What they don’t realize is they’re going to stay in that lowest-paying job unless they get more education.”
Through Saint’s Place’s new scholarship program, which it implemented about 18 months ago, the organization grants scholarships to vocational schools and partial scholarships to Monroe Community College, St. John Fisher College and Nazareth College. The organization also provides laptops to refugees attending classes.
“Our biggest success I think is the vocational schools,” Miller said, noting that four refugees who received scholarships have finished their vocational training and found jobs with benefits. “We think we’re really making a difference with that one.”