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Neighborhood welcomes refugees with open arms

Date: 3/10/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WEST SPRINGFIELD -- The Merrick Neighborhood is dramatically dissimilar to the mountainous terrain of the Kingdom of Bhutan or the scorching deserts of Somalia but West Springfield is home now for many international refugees.

The Precinct 1 and 2 Neighborhood Committee in conjunction with Lutheran Social Services on Main Street and the First United Methodist Church are reaching out to their new neighbors with a myriad of assimilation activities.

During an interview with Reminder Publications, Diane Crowell, member of the Precinct 1 and 2 Neighborhood Committee, noted that the Feb. 25 International Pot Luck Luncheon was attended by over 75 people and is the second event in the series.

"[We] have an influx of refugees in our neighborhood [and this is an opportunity] for us to welcome them and to get to know them and appreciate them," she said. "We think it makes a smoother transition [into the United States] for them and their neighbors."

Jessica Tilden, community partnership planner at Lutheran Social Services, explained that the neighborhood events are widely attended by students enrolled in the organization's English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. She noted that approximately 50 people are currently enrolled in the free ESL classes.

"The folks that we're seeing now [are immigrating from] Myanmar, Bhutan and Iraq," Tilden explained. "They're all coming in the Merrick section [of West Springfield, which] has a strong neighborhood organization. We're really trying to make [the relationship between neighbors] that people know [and depend on] each other."

Jill Fortier, a member of the Precinct 1 and 2 Neighborhood Committee, said the programs help to "open a door" for refugees into the community.

The next event in the series will be a picnic at the Alice Corson Playground in June.

For more information about ESL classes or other free programs at Lutheran Social Services, call 787-0725 or visit