Posted May 26, 2023
February 24, 2022… On this day, Russia invaded parts of Ukraine in a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War.
Thousands of people died, and many more had to flee Ukraine hoping to find safety.
In response to the war, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) partnered with the Community Sponsorship Hub and came up with a program called Welcome Circles.
According to the USCCB website, a welcome circle is, “…a group of 5-20 people who come together to provide wraparound support for the family [of refugees], housing, time-bound income support, basic necessities, job search advice, orientation to the community and more.”
Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) of Cleveland is one of three cities that pilots this program.
“The Welcome Circle program specifically is group sponsorship…” Welcome Circles Program Coordinator Sarah Murphy said.
For interested parties, there is a two-step application process that has to be completed before the family comes to the U.S.
The first application is for USCCB and Community Sponsorship Hub. This is where the Welcome Circle groups would get background checks, sign code of conducts, complete training, etc.
During this step, the group will also have to create a welcome plan.
“They [the group] would also have to create something called a ‘Welcome Plan’ which is where everyone is mapping out how they’re going to provide the resources that they are going to, to the family,” Murphy said.
The next for the groups would be to fill out the I-134A Declaration of Financial Support document.
This document is for the U.S. Government that helps get the families over from Ukraine.
“It sounds a lot scarier than it actually is,” Murphy said, “This is for the U.S. Government because that is how Ukrainians can come to the United States through this application.”
It is important to know that this part of the application process is not a legally binding document, so it does not hold the group financially liable for the family once they have arrived.
St. Joseph Parish in Strongsville welcomed their family in January of 2023 and has had a positive experience so far.
“Everyone along this journey has been so incredibly kind and gone out of their way to help…” St. Joseph Parish Welcome Circle Co-Lead Angela Weerasuriya said.
Recently retired, Weerasuriya wanted to get involved to help give back to her community, and helping Ukrainians escape the dangers seemed like the best way.
“I’m a first-generation American, so I know what it’s like for people that first come here to the United States,” Weerasuriya said, “and certainly, I wanted to help the people of Ukraine to escape the dangers of the situation they were in.”
One of Weerasuriya’s favorite memories with the family was picking up the kids from school.
“These children were so ready to go to school and to have a routine and stability in their life…They just came home so happy, and that was very heartwarming for me,” Weerasuriya said.
The Welcome Circle program gives people the opportunity to work in a group setting to help make a positive impact on refugees’ lives.
“With the Welcome Circles, you have those four or more people that you can really tap into those different expertise’s and reach out to their networks and really divide up those responsibilities so that it’s not so overwhelming…” Murphy said. “…Welcome Circles are this great opportunity to maybe do something that you've always wanted to do individually but didn't think was possible.”
Catholic Charities is looking for more parishes to create their own Welcome Circle! Click the button below to learn more about the process!