World Refugee Day: Building Bridges and Communities with Neighbor to Neighbor

June 18, 2024 | By: Communications Staff

Neighbor to Neighbor: Fostering Connections and Support for Refugees in St. Joe County

St. Joe County is home to a vibrant and diverse population, thanks in part to organizations like Neighbor to Neighbor. Founded and led by Andrea Cramer, Neighbor to Neighbor is dedicated to supporting refugees and newcomers, helping them acclimate to their new surroundings while also fostering understanding and empathy within the local community.

Mission and Impact

Neighbor to Neighbor’s mission is twofold: to mitigate isolation for newcomers and to humanize the issue of immigration for the broader community. “We accomplish those things with one solution, which is relationships,” explains Kramer. By building connections between newcomers and local residents, the organization creates a supportive environment where both parties can grow and learn from each other.

Each year, Neighbor to Neighbor works with 75 to 100 individuals from various backgrounds. The refugee population in St. Joe County is remarkably diverse, with recent arrivals from Afghanistan, Syria, Congo, Venezuela, and Honduras. This diversity enriches the community, as refugees bring their cultures, cuisines, and experiences, integrating into the local fabric of life.

Challenges and Acclimation

For many refugees, the journey to St. Joe County is fraught with challenges. Some flee from conflict or persecution, spending years in refugee camps before being resettled. “There’s a lot of cultural bereavement,” Kramer notes, describing the emotional toll of leaving one’s home, traditions, and familiar surroundings. Acclimating to a new country involves navigating different educational, legal, and medical systems, as well as adjusting to a new diet and climate.

Kramer emphasizes that the adjustment period can feel like a rollercoaster, often described as a W-curve, with initial highs followed by significant lows. Studies suggest it takes about three years for a new place to feel like home, a period that can be even more challenging for refugees due to language barriers and unfamiliar systems.

Building a New Life

When refugees arrive, they often have little more than a single bag per person, containing only the essentials. “You probably don’t have all the seasons of clothes… or any of your heirlooms or things that are very precious to you,” Kramer explains. Neighbor to Neighbor helps these individuals start from scratch, providing them with the support and resources they need to build a new life.

Community Integration and Success Stories

Neighbor to Neighbor’s work is not just about survival but also about thriving. The organization creates volunteer teams that accompany newcomer households for the first 9 to 12 months, helping them navigate their new environment and build meaningful relationships. One of the most rewarding aspects of Kramer’s work is witnessing these small, everyday moments when refugees begin to feel at home.

“We recently had one of our first Afghan women receive their driver’s license, which is a huge reason to celebrate,” Kramer shares. Another memorable moment was a teenager’s first birthday away from home, which Neighbor to Neighbor helped celebrate with a cake and a pinata, making the child feel special and loved.

Get Involved

Neighbor to Neighbor offers numerous opportunities for community members to get involved. Volunteers can join teams supporting newcomer households, ensuring they have the resources and connections needed to succeed. Other local organizations, such as La Casa de Amistad, United Religious Community, and Catholic Charities, also provide volunteer opportunities for those looking to make a difference.

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