Why do we need sponsorship?

In our latest podcast episode, “Season 6, Episode 5 – Sponsorship 101: Pathways of Welcome”, Allison Duvall, Senior Manager for Church Relations & Engagement for Episcopal Migration Ministries, cements in the fact that sponsorship is “the ‘lifeblood’ of refugee resettlement”, which has existed since the 1940’s.  She notes that it was actually “members of faith communities and other community groups who would gather together and raise money and build out the supports needed to welcome individuals who are fleeing persecution and coming to the United States.”

Sponsorship as it exists today within refugee resettlement is critical because even within the capacity of refugee resettlement and the many case managers and caseworkers, those efforts and services that EMM’s affiliates are able to provide really only go so far.

Zoë Bayer, a Post-Arrival Program Officer at Episcopal Migration Ministries, emphasizes the financial, logistical, and emotional benefits of sponsorship as it functions alongside a backlogged government system.

“The government programs for newly arrived individuals are the reception placement program and the Afghan Placement and Assistance Program (APA) for Afghan parolees. Both [programs offer] 90 days of support with $1,225 available for each individual. Our local offices do a fantastic job of supporting newly arrived individuals, with helping them get enrolled in services, but there’s really only so far that the program can go since it is naturally limited to 90 days.”

“And when you think about it,” she adds, “90 days, three months, is really pretty short to acclimate to a whole new culture, a whole new place, and just over $1,200, doesn’t go very far…it doesn’t even cover one month’s rent in a lot of locations. There are options for longer case management programs in some locations, but it depends on the location and the eligibility.”

Duvall shares that while a case manager may be able to help connect people to services and help them fill out a self-sufficiency plan, case managers “aren’t going to be your American friend who helps you navigate the bus system or go to your grocery store or get your first library card. That’s really where community sponsors and individuals who want to step up and welcome their new neighbors come into the picture.”

Bayer explains that sponsorship fills a gap, both at a logistical and emotional level for people that are acclimating to a new culture, and that it gives families and individuals much more support for longer than the initial first couple of months after arrival.

“What makes resettlement so successful for New Americans,” Duvall says, “is when their new neighbors, their American neighbors, come alongside them to welcome them.”

Sponsorship: “A beautiful tree”.
Duvall compares sponsorship to a tree, saying that “all of refugee resettlement is this beautiful tree….The tree is refugee resettlement and welcoming people into the United States who fled persecution who are seeking a safe place to rebuild their lives. And then on the tree, there are some major branches where both professional agencies that do this work kind of function on the different branches. But then also, [there are] smaller branches that go out from it, where community members can be involved.”

All Co-sponsors are community sponsors, but not all community sponsors are co-sponsors.

Within the formal refugee resettlement program, the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), there are nine national agencies, including EMM. Each national agency has its own local network of affiliate partners, who provide services to newcomers upon the arrival of refugees. Within those programs, there’s a definition of ‘co-sponsorship,’ which is where a community group can come alongside a newly arriving family and provide a certain number of delegable services.The local agency (such as an affiliate of EMM), is legally obligated to provide services, but they can delegate some of those services to a co-sponsor. To qualify as a co-sponsor and participate in co-sponsorship means to meet a certain threshold, meaning that the co-sponsor has to complete a certain number of activities to be considered a full co-sponsor. If the group completes less activities, they could be considered a community sponsor.

Folks are able to contribute at the community sponsor level, which is when a group of people commit to providing certain services to newly arriving refugees and refugee-like populations including volunteer material. However, there are some exciting new pathways popping up.

Duvall notes, “there’s also a quasi private model, which is the Sponsor Circle Program for Afghans. The private model and community sponsorship are very similar– it just depends on the mechanism by which people are being welcomed. Are they coming through the formal resettlement program and receiving reception and placement or Afghan placement and assistance services? Or are they opting out of those options, and coming through this newly designed Sponsor Circle Program for Afghans?”

“Regardless,” she says, “all of it involves providing support in addition to becoming those first American friends for newcomers to meet.”

Jumping on “the ladder” of sponsorship
Alternatively, Bayer also likes to think of the types of sponsorship it as a ladder, based on levels of commitment needed to successfully support families and individuals : “The levels on the ladder are kind of the co-sponsor, higher commitment…and then below that, the support team or volunteer group [considered community sponsors]. The co-sponsor level is groups that are assisting with a majority or more of the services that are needed for that family or that individual. [If] it’s a group that is assisting with less than a majority [of those services], then they would be more of a support team or volunteer group. [Support teams or groups] would still have a relationship with the family, but it would be a lower level of commitment, maybe a shorter commitment.”

The level of commitment a group of people are able to provide is dependent on many things, such as location or proximity to the arriving folks, working schedules, nearby resources, and the number of people available to support this work.

“For example,” Bayer elaborates, “we often have support teams that do apartment setup. And before the family arrives, they set up the apartment with furniture, go grocery shopping, get everything ready for the family once they arrive. But the [support group] might not necessarily do services further along the road….Whereas a co-sponsor might do all of those things, but also sign an agreement to take responsibility for more services, and also sign saying that they’ll have a relationship with a family for six months or a year or something like that. So it really depends on the commitment level of the group and how much time and resources they’re able to offer.”

There is a place for your time, your passion and resources in this critical work of welcome at every level of sponsorship! Please check out the resources and action items to help us build beloved community through welcoming our newest neighbors:

Next steps/additional resources:

*NOTE: This blog post is part of a two-part series that explores the levels of sponsorship and how communities can get involved at every level. Stay tuned for part two of this deep-dive into community sponsorship!