York County groups organize to support refugees


Refugees need friends.

"Repeatedly I hear, 'Here's my phone number, come and visit me, would you like to have a cup of coffee?'" Joan Maruskin, a member of Church World Service's advisory board, told a group on Wednesday.

The group had gathered at Union Lutheran Church, 408 W. Market St., York City, to learn about ways to help refugees who are resettled in the area.

About 20 people, many from York and many representing churches, listened as representatives from CWS and Lutheran Children and Family Service (LCFS) explained the processes refugees go through and how to support them and make them feel welcome.

Resettlement: Relatively few refugees are resettled in this country, Janet Panning, program director at LCFS, said after the meeting.

Of the millions who have been displaced by the war in Syria, she said, only about 1,100 have been resettled here in the last 12 months.

Those that do come here go through "multitudes of layers" of security clearances before they can enter the U.S., she said.

Refugees can be resettled within 50 miles of a resettlement agency. There are no agencies in York, but both CWS and LCFS have offices in Lancaster, so the agencies sometimes resettle families in York, Panning said.

Refugees are often resettled near the agency that's helping them, Maruskin said. Many refugees, including two Syrian families, have been resettled in Lancaster.

But if enough groups get together, the agencies could potentially resettle more families in York, each supported by a welcoming team — a group of individuals or churches or other community organizations.

"It'd be nice to have a cluster of four families of one ethnicity — then they could develop a community," Panning said.

Both CWS and LCFS are Christian organizations, but they welcome people of any faith or no faith at all as volunteers.

Responsibilities: The agencies' full-time employees and many volunteers help integrate families into their communities.

There are various roles volunteers and groups can take on.

According to a Church World Service checklist, responsibilities of volunteers who agree to help refugees upon their arrival range from collecting furniture and buying food to meeting a family at the airport when they arrive to coordinating with the agency to help refugees set up their home.

Those who choose to support refugees further into their time here can serve as "conversation partners," financial coordinators or community guides and provide job development assistance.

The point of getting a large welcome team together is to fulfill all the needs of a family.

At the end of the meeting, members of the audience broke into smaller groups to discuss coordinating their efforts. Several members of the York Conference of Lutherans gathered to discuss forming a group among their congregations.

"Our congregation has settled two families ... It's a lot for one congregation," said Judy Garber, a member of Christ Lutheran Church in York.

To find out how you can help refugees or connect with others who want to help, contact Joan Maruskin at (443) 775-1609 or, or go to or

— Reach Julia Scheib at