Imagine moving to a strange new country to find safety, but being forced to leave behind your five children? Lola knows that reality all too well. The single mother came to the United States from Guatemala two years ago and only recently – one by one – was reunited with all of her children in Virginia. After years of extreme poverty, trauma, and violence, the family is together again.
But with a new country comes new and unexpected challenges. In addition to a language barrier, Lola and her family live in fear of deportation and are struggling to navigate seemingly simple tasks – like using public transportation, mail service, and finding a lawyer. They’re in desperate need of food, clothing, and practical items like toothpaste, laundry detergent, and toiletries. That’s where the enCircle caseworker steps in.
EnCircle was started in 1888 as a small orphanage in Salem, Virginia, but today the not-for-profit organization serves children and families across Virginia and West Virginia. Its circle of immigration and refugee services is expanding to encompass immigrants from around the world, just like Lola. Recently, however, many of those who arrive are unaccompanied minors.
“Our job is to work diligently to protect these children and reunite them with loved ones as quickly as possible,” said enCircle CEO Ray Ratke. People are fleeing their home countries because of political, economic, and environmental instability that has resulted in chronic trauma. Ratke says when these families have no other options, they often choose to make the journey to the U.S. to seek refuge.
EnCircle is part of a national network of providers that sees and supports the courage and resilience of children faced with this situation every day. Partnering with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area, enCircle works to prevent the trafficking of children within U.S. borders. “We ensure that children are placed in safe, loving homes with family members who are equipped to care for them,” said Margaret Nimmo Holland, chief engagement officer with enCircle.
Though the expansion of enCircle’s immigration and refugee services program is new, the organization’s support for this population is not. For three years, enCircle’s safe release program team members have been helping ensure that relatives and sponsor families in the U.S. provide safe homes for unaccompanied migrant children and teens. They conduct home studies for some families, and family members are fingerprinted as part of the background-check process. EnCircle staff provide case management services to unaccompanied children and their sponsor families so the children’s physical and mental health, legal, and educational needs are met as they resettle in Virginia.
“These services are critically important, and it’s clear that this will be an ongoing need,” said Ratke. “We are privileged to expand our circle even wider to meet this need in our community and our country.”
Committed to Service!
For more than one hundred years, enCircle has adapted to the changing needs of the people it serves. On average, enCircle serves more than 1,000 children and adults each day with the help of more than 600 staff members and caregivers. In addition to working with immigrants and refugees, enCircle helps children with emotional and behavioral challenges succeed in its Minnick Schools. EnCircle finds supportive temporary or permanent families for children in foster care, provides counseling to strengthen families so they remain strong and intact, and supports adults with developmental disabilities as they live and thrive in their communities.
“Being able to help families like Lola’s find stability and safety is an important part of enCircle’s dedication to our communities – particularly to those who are often left out – and we appreciate all those who make the work possible,” said Nimmo Holland.