After the youngest of their 8 children turned four, Carrie and Dan decided to become foster parents and fulfill Carries’ life-long dream of fostering children in greatest need.
After weeks of classes and screening, Carrie was a qualified foster parent and within a week had her first foster child, Charity a beautiful 6 month-old Sudanese baby girl, daughter of a refugee from Sudan. What started as a short-term placement grew into a permanent placement and eventual adoption 9 years later along with her older brother Emmani and older sister Pepor.
With these 3 children added to their family, a connection to the Sudanese community occurred and when an opportunity came up to help a new refugee family from Sudan, Carrie and Dan gladly accepted. With help from their friend Deb and church friends, Carrie and Dan collected clothing, food, furnishings, and other household items to give to the new family. So much was donated that it was decided that some of the donations would be held back in the event that other opportunities would come to help refugees. Catholic Charities learned of the help Carrie and Dan provided and asked if they would be willing to become volunteers of Catholic Charities and help them with additional refugee families. Within a few weeks, the call came asking to meet and help three new families from the DR Congo. Because of the huge influx of refugees in the Summer and Fall of 2016, Catholic Charities was stretched thin and began calling every couple of weeks with more families, mostly from the DR Congo, who needed help. Three families grew to dozens more and with the help of family and friends, a mentor program was established, linking refugee families in need with individuals and families wanting to help. The needs were vast as mentors began helping with food, clothing, furniture, household items, bicycles, transportation to appointments, registering kids for school, immunizations, registering adults in English classes and other government programs, helping with reading and understanding mail, making appointments, etc. It truly was the “Summer of Love” as many lives were touched, both the giver and the receiver.
While the Collins family was fostering and growing over the last decade, another family, a continent away was growing and going through its own challenges.
While raising their children, Justin and his wife were raising a family while managing a large non-profit organization in The DR Congo helping orphans and widows. Justin saw first-hand the terrible atrocities occurring to the people of The DR Congo and eventually he himself became victim of the things he witnessed in the way of torture and near death experiences. He and his family, like thousands of others, found themselves as refugees in Uganda. Through many miracles, Justin and his family were able to survive and he eventually found work to support his family. His work required a trip to Los Angeles for training at which time he received a call from his wife saying that it was not safe for him to return back to Africa, because people from the same groups who forced him from his home in The DR Congo were looking for him in Uganda. Isolated in America, Justin sought help as a political asylum seeker to no avail. Through various circumstances, Justin ended up in San Diego not knowing anyone, with nowhere to live, and nothing to eat. Again, through many miracles, Justin crossed paths with many people who helped him network and began establishing himself in San Diego as he awaits his asylum and the arrival of his family from Africa.
It was in the summer of 2016, just before Carrie and Dan started their refugee volunteer work, that Dan and Justin would first meet at a church activity. Just after Carrie and Dan met those first 3 families from the DR Congo, he remembered that his new friend Justin was also from the DR Congo and quickly called upon him for help in communicating with and assisting the refugees. It was a match made in heaven and the two of them found themselves together virtually every day assisting Carrie as she coordinated the activities in servicing the needs of the refugees. After a couple of months of volunteer work, Carrie and Dan’s oldest son Brad suggested that since they enjoyed the refugee work so much and because of the amount of time and money they were spending on it, that they consider raising some money and start a small non-profit organization helping refugees in the San Diego area. That’s all it took for Dan to approach Justin about the idea and they’ve never looked back. Although it’s taken some time, Dan and Justin have spent countless hours formulating a business plan and creating programs on how best to help refugees become self-reliant. In the past several months, there has been numerous people who have donated their time and talents in helping with everything from logo design to website creation to legal work for the registration process.
As with anything new, there’s a learning curve and so it is with New Neighbor Relief.
In the beginning, they thought their services would be limited to assisting resettlement agencies with helping refugees for the first 90 days of resettlement with the necessities of life; food, clothing, and helping with the adjustment to life in America. But it has evolved into much more. Dan responded to their great cry for help in finding a job by hiring 6 men to work for his painting company. It was a chance worth taking in the hope that if refugees could learn a trade, they could use that trade to eventually earn a good enough wage to support a family and over time they could learn enough English to get a driver’s license and eventually save up enough money to buy a car. This model has become the basis of the four main programs of New Neighbor Relief
1. Mentoring Program – Assign an individual or two friends or a family as a mentor to a refugee family to help with basic necessities of life and adjust to life in America.
2. English Program – Help refugees learn English as soon as possible in order to increase their chances of getting a meaningful job.
3. Employment Program – Partner with employers who can supply starter jobs for refugees with the potential to grow into permanent careers.
4. Transportation Program – Help provide a bicycle, bus pass, or car to help obtain and secure a job.
During the first year of volunteer work, Dan and Justin found that the sooner a refugee can learn English, get a job, and have his or her own transportation, the sooner they will become self-reliant and find happiness with their new life in America. This is the vision that New Neighbor Relief has for all refugees.