5:40 p.m. PST November 29, 2016
Anya and Doug Holcomb have spent most of their adult lives traveling the world to help refugees.
And after years of living abroad, the two have returned to Anya’s home of Salem at a time when their skills could be most utilized.
Since February, about 98 refugees have been resettled in the Salem-Keizer area from countries such as Cuba, Burma, Bhutan, Iran, Iraq, and Somalia.
“If I was in their shoes,” Anya asked herself, “what would I want from my new community?”
“I would want to live a normal life,” she said. “(I’d be thinking) about safety, (getting) a job, housing, school for my kids.”
Using these thoughts as motivation, Anya and Doug came up with the idea of an online, one-stop resource center for Salem refugees and people who want to help.
The Salem For Refugees website, which is still under construction, will provide ways refugees and volunteers can connect with ways to give, donate and get involved.
It will also be a space for refugees to post resumes and search for jobs and housing. Similarly, employers and landlords will be able to post open positions and input from working with the refugees.
The couple presented the idea for the project at one of the “Welcoming Our New Neighbors” meetings held this fall to organize resources and assistance for local refugees.
The meetings, organized by the Salem Leadership Foundation, Salem Alliance Church and Catholic Charities, focus on six key topics — education, English language services, housing, employment, health care and cultural navigation services.
“They’re not only refugees,” said Sam Skillern, executive director of the Salem Leadership Foundation, at one gathering. “They’re our new neighbors … (our) new brothers and sisters.”
Anya and Doug said they want Salem to “be known for helping refugees.”
Doug said there has been a lot of help from schools, churches and other groups to resettle the refugees already.
“We were so impressed with how excited the community is,” he said. “It’s exciting to see the potential of these relationships.”
He said he thinks the more people get to know the refugees, the more they will see “they are just people.”
The next “Welcoming Our New Neighbors” meeting will be noon Dec. 12 at Salem Alliance Church, 555 Gaines St NE.
For more information, contact the Salem Leadership Foundation at 503-315-8924.
Refugee growth in Oregon
According to the Oregon Department of Human Services, more than 64,000 refugees have resettled in Oregon since 1975. Most of these refugees initially settled in the greater Portland metro area.
Currently, the most common refugee groups arriving in Oregon are from Cuba, Burma, Bhutan, Iran, Iraq, and Somalia.
Oregon’s refugee arrival populations from the past 15 years:
- 2015: 1,357
- 2014: 1,246
- 2013: 1,105
- 2012: 986
- 2011: 944
- 2010: 1,185
- 2009: 820
- 2008: 811
- 2007: 830
- 2006: 1,135
- 2005: 1,142
- 2004: 1,660
- 2003: 912
- 2002: 1,126
- 2001: 1,582