PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The organization heading the refugee resettlement program in Pittsfield will hold its second community meeting on the topic on Monday, Feb. 13.
Jewish Family Services of Western Massachusetts is looking to resettle 50 refugees from Iraq and Syria in Pittsfield. The group announced its intentions in September and held a community meeting later that month. That meeting was so well attended that people were being turned away at the door.
In January, the U.S. State Department approved Pittsfield as being a site for resettlement and the group announced it will have another round of community meetings. One was scheduled for Monday at Morningside School but that has since been canceled. The second is still scheduled for Feb. 13 at Herberg Middle School at 6 p.m.
"Jewish Family Service has been helping refugees to build new lives in Western Massachusetts for more than 40 years. We have been incredibly fortunate to have the strong support of the community in this work," said Maxine Stein, CEO of Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts, said in a statement.
"Each year, we resettle more than 240 refugees through our Springfield office. Last year alone, we helped more than 80 families begin new lives in safety and freedom in the Springfield area. By expanding to Pittsfield, we will be able to help welcome an additional 50 refugees this year."
However, an executive order signed by President Trump put halt on resettlement programs. The impact of that order is expected to be discussed at the meeting on Feb. 13.
Jewish Family Services previously said Pittsfield is a particularly good place for a resettlement program because it had taken in hundreds from the former Soviet Union throughout the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, has low housing costs to help refugees who feel heavy burdens of rent, an array of job opportunities, and leaders and people willing to help out.
"Newly arrived refugees need a safe, welcoming community in which they can rebuild their lives and contribute to the local economy. Pittsfield is an ideal location for resettlement because of its strong local industries, employment opportunities and low housing costs, all of which will make it easier for refugees to quickly attain self-sufficiency," Stein said in a statement.
And many city leaders are behind it, including Mayor Linda Tyer and state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier.
"Acts of violence perpetrated on the Syrian people are incomprehensible to those of us who live in a protected and secure nation," Tyer said in a statement. "I believe strongly, both personally and professionally, in our obligation to respond to this humanitarian crisis. And, I am committed to ensuring that the citizens of Pittsfield have ample opportunity to learn more about this endeavor and to providing a welcoming environment to those from Syria who we may someday call friend and neighbor."
Farley-Bouvier said, "I'm pleased to see that this process is moving forward. The people of Pittsfield have made it clear that they are eager to open their hearts and welcome new neighbors to our community. I'm particularly pleased that we are partnering with Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts who has many years of professional experience in refugee resettlement."
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