Community Support Network eNews – 11/13

Community Support Network eNews, November 2013 issue
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The Mutual Gift of Hosting: An Interview with Joshua VanCleef

VanCleef300Access to safe, affordable and stable housing is a fundamental human right, and essential for successful community integration. In recent months, identifying and securing housing has emerged as a primary concern and source of anxiety among our partners network-wide. However, despite the housing shortage, partners across the nation have risen to the occasion and developed new and innovative models. Whether converting old convents into intentional communities or recruiting and training foster families, your creativity and commitment has been truly inspiring!

This month, we will hear from Joshua VanCleef, a housing manager with the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants. For those just beginning to explore alternative housing models, Joshua’s experiences and insights invite reflection and prompt creative action.

Thank you Joshua for taking the time to reflect and share what you have learned, and to the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants for all of your hard work!

ATJ: Imagine a colleague or partner is interested in developing a new housing program to support individuals coming out of detention. What are 5 things you recommend they consider or think about before establishing the housing program?

Joshua VanCleef: For nearly a year and a half, we have been working to secure a large building site and develop a house of hospitality for those released from immigration detention and into our care. While we continue to work toward that goal, we have had to explore and develop creative solutions to the housing needs for our program participants. In order to meet these needs and have space to welcome new participants, we have developed a network of community-based housing that consists of religious communities, young adult intentional communities, seminary housing, and private homes. There is certainly no shortage of lessons that I have learned while attempting to develop this type of housing network and I continue to be inspired by the generosity of people. Rooted in my experience thus far, I will offer some considerations for those wishing to develop similar community-based housing programs.

  1. Hosting is a mutual exchange of gift. It is understandable that many people are nervous to host someone in their private home, whether for a long or short-term stay. The idea of it certainly runs against the cultural grain. To welcome someone into the flow of our personal life, sharing meals, and offering hospitality is simply not what we are taught to do. It can be equally nerve wrecking to be the one to ask someone else to host. It seems like an enormous burden to place on another person’s active and busy life. Yet it is my experience that the vast majority of people, while nervous at first, quickly find that while receiving someone into their homes, they are the ones being gifted. Hospitality is a mutual exchange of gift. We need not be timid in asking people to consider hosting someone, for it is a gift that has the potential to be a life changing encounter.
  2. Community holds an abundance of resources. By reaching out to immigrant welcoming communities, organizations, and congregations, new housing opportunities can be developed (in private homes or other sites). This partnership allows local communities to be empowered to become advocates of immigrant justice and agents of systemic change, by offering community- based alternatives to detention. This endeavor will not only strengthen your housing program but it will also strengthen the life of the community.
  3. It is important to find ways to recognize and lift up stories of hosting and hospitality. Recognizing the ways that people open their homes to accompaniment and hospitality, breathes new life into our efforts and strengthens our resolve. We try to do this through a monthly newsletter that highlights stories of hosting. By allowing people to tell their story of hosting someone, they are encouraged to process their experience, and others are often inspired by their insight and emboldened by their generosity.
  4. While preparing people for hosting, adequate training and resources are invaluable. The more information people have and resources they have access to, the more fears and expectation can be managed. This facilitates building safe space and gives people the resources for accompaniment.
  5. We must hold the dynamic tension of being both a service and a primary community to our participants. As we build community among our long-term participants (16) and our volunteer team members (70+), it is clear that we stand in the gap between being a program and something more similar to a family. We couldn’t be happier that our staff and volunteers have welcomed participants into their homes, lives, families, and social circles, it is really a great witness of accompaniment. But we also strive to hold the balance of boundaries that our program and service require in order to best serve our participants and our long-term goals.


Partnership Spotlight: First Friends and the Faith Community

FirstFriends300During the 6th annual National Immigrant Integration Conference (NIIC), policymakers, practitioners, faith leaders, social workers, elected officials and a few members of our Community Support Network, joined together this month to brainstorm, share and discuss strategies for greater immigrant inclusion. LIRS staff, partners and faith leaders convened in Miami to participate in this conversation and convene around discussions of how LIRS and our partners can build our partnerships with the faith community.

“It was a powerful, transforming experience. I didn’t realize how much power was in the room, in the individual gifts of each person that were brought to this conference in fighting to get us closer to equality and justice for all human beings.” Sally Pillay of First Friends shared.

“I got to meet so many people from all walks of life and diverse cultural backgrounds. It speaks to the power when we come together and work together to accomplish what we can.”

The sessions during NIIC not only reinforced the importance of collaboration, but also presented a unique opportunity for members of our network and the faith community to converse, and reflect on how they have worked together over the years.

In thinking about First Friend’s growth and expansion, Pillay shared that the faith community has played a central role.

“Frist Friends started as a ministry of a church community, and has continued the tradition of collaborating with faith communities, because that is where we believe we can get the support for integration.” Pillay shared.

Currently, 95% of First Friend’s support comes from faith communities and interfaith connection. Members of the faith community have served as generous donors, visitation ministry champions and board members.

Pillay attended NIIC with Reverend Ramon Collazo of St Annabel’s Lutheran Church and Reverend Maristela Freiberg, who was previously with St Stephens of Newark. Both Reverend Collazo and Reverend Freiberg have greatly supported First Friend’s mission and outreach efforts over the years.

“Rev Collazo visits immigration detention facilities and has expanded the work of his congregation. Reverend Freiberg and her co-pastor lead a diverse parish. They speak to mutual transformation on their side from working with community partners and working with their immigrant parish.”

Reverend Freiberg echoed Pillay’s reflections, adding that their relationship with First Friends exists on two levels, the synotical level and the congregational level.

On the synotical level, “We have been conducting vigils outside Elizabeth since 2005, with the intention of praying for the detainees and increasing awareness about detention” Reverend Freiberg shared.

Additionally, they partner with First Friends to organize and facilitate workshops and a conference of congregational ministers to increase awareness on the realities of immigration detention. They also encourage members of their community to participate in visitation ministry.

On the congregational level, they called upon First Friends to serve as valuable allies when they were leading a specific fight in the city of Newark.

“It is a relationship of mutual support,” concluded Reverend Freiberg.

A relationship of mutual support is something we can all strive to achieve as we begin to explore, grow and strengthen our relationship with faith communities network-wide.


New Resources

Upcoming Events

Monthly Network-wide Conference Call

December 5, 2:00-3:00pm EST
Please contact for call in information.

Visitation Ministry Conference Call

December 5, 3:00-4:00pm EST
Please contact for call in information.

“Crisis Intervention”

December 12th from 3-5pm EST
Karen Hanscom, Executive Director of Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma, will discuss how a service provider can identify significant mental health concerns and how one should proceed/intervene during a psychological emergency. Dr. Hanscom is a licensed psychologist and phenomenal trainer with years of experience as a practitioner, researcher and educator. (Some of you may remember her from the 2012 Access to Justice Conference in Baltimore.) She is a friend and ally in our work with survivors of torture and intimately involved with the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims. She has worked with individuals impacted immigration detention and provided treatment for numerous clients upon their release from custody. Dr. Hanscom is an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University and regularly conducts trainings with asylum offices throughout the country on how best to interview survivors of torture and trauma. Karen’s trainings are always fun, interactive and informative. Please email to register.

Stamp our Despair Campaign

Help First Friends meet their goal of gifting each local immigration detainee with a supply of stamped envelopes, greeting cards, writing paper and funds for phone cards this holiday season. Please send the following items to First Friends (321 South Broad Street, Elizabeth, NJ, 07202) before November 30th, 2013:

  • Blank 2 pocket folders
  • First class ‘Forever’ stamps, international postage stamps
  • Small and large envelopes
  • Writing paper and color paper
  • Blank Note Cards
  • Monetary donations so we can purchase phone service

Additionally, please join First Friends for a packing party on Sunday, December 8th, 2013 at 1:00pm. The address is, St. Joseph’s, 118 Division St. Elizabeth, NJ 07201. For more information, contact First Friends at 908-965-0455 or email


Who is the Community Support Network?

CSNteamIn partnership with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) LIRS launched the Community Support Network in 2012, a national service model to examine the efficiency of community-based services as an alternative to immigration detention. This initiative inspires volunteers and funds non-profit service agencies to offer a continuum of care that facilitates immigrants’ release from detention, immediate support and stabilization services, torture and trauma rehabilitation, and eventually long term integration. In 2012, the Community Support Network served approximately 85 people post-release and brought together over 80 practitioners for a conference about alternatives to current enforcement practices.