Sponsorship 101: Pathways to Welcome – Part 1

Why do we need sponsorship?
In season 6, episode 5 of Episcopal Migration Ministries’ “HomeTown” podcast, Allison Duvall, senior manager for church relations and engagement, cements the fact that sponsorship is “the ‘lifeblood’ of refugee resettlement,” which has existed since the 1940s. 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. The capacity of case managers and case workers, and the efforts and services that EMM’s affiliate offices provide to new arrivals, really only go so far.

Zoë Bayer, a post-arrival program officer at Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), emphasizes the financial, logistical, and emotional benefits of sponsorship as it functions alongside a backlogged government system.

Government programs for newly arrived individuals—the reception placement program and the Afghan Placement and Assistance Program (APA) for Afghan parolees—each offer 90 days of support with $1,225 available per person. Some longer-term case management programs are available, but they are dependent on location and eligibility.

“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,” Bayer explains. “And when you think about it, 90 days 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.”

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 at logistical and emotional levels for people who are adjusting to a new culture, and it gives families and individuals much more support beyond their first few 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 the massive work of refugee resettlement to a “beautiful tree.” The tree contains major branches representing the work of professional agencies. “Smaller branches go out from it, where community members can be involved,” she said.

All co-sponsors are community sponsors, but not all community sponsors are co-sponsors
Within the formal refugee resettlement program, called 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 their arrival.

Within those local programs, there’s the option of co-sponsorship, where a community group can come alongside a newly arriving family and provide a certain number of 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.

For a group to qualify as a full co-sponsor and participate in co-sponsorship, it must meet complete a certain number of activities. If the group completes a fewer number of activities, it could be considered a community sponsor. Community sponsors commit to providing certain services—including financial and volunteer resources—to newly arriving refugees and refugee-like populations.

However, there are some exciting new pathways popping up, including a quasi-private model called 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,” Duvall says. “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 as a ladder, based on levels of commitment needed to successfully support families and individuals. Co-sponsorship would be at a higher level—groups that assist with a majority or more of the services needed for a family or individual.

Community sponsors would be on a lower rung of the ladder, assisting as more of a support team or volunteer group. “They would still have a relationship with the family, but it would be a lower level of commitment, maybe a shorter commitment,” Bayer said.

Many factors determine the level of commitment a group is able to provide, including 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.”

A support team/community sponsor might not provide further services, she explains.

“However, 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,” Bayer says. “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, passion, and resources in this critical work of welcome at every level of sponsorship! Please check out the resources and action items below to help us build beloved community through welcoming our newest neighbors.

Next steps/additional resources:

NOTE: This article is the first in a two-part series that explores sponsorship options and how communities can get involved at every level.

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