March 4, 2021: All Souls Outreach to Refugee Families

By Embry Howell

About 5 years ago, Steve Merrill and I discovered that we were both passionate about providing assistance to refugee families newly arrived in the U.S.  This was at a time when there were many such families arriving in the Washington, D.C. area, and several organizations were soliciting the help of religious congregations to aid in the refugee settlement process.  We formed a small committee of All Souls parishioners to discuss this.  The conclusion was to move forward and that it would be best if we could partner with one or more other congregations in the effort.
The first family we helped was the Haydaris (mom is Iranian and dad is Afghan). They arrived in the spring of 2016, and we helped with finding housing, helping their two girls get into school and nursery school, helping with food and clothing, and helping dad get medical help for his eyesight (one eye had been damaged as a child.)  They settled in Mr. Rainier, MD for two years, in which time mom learned to drive and took English classes, and dad ultimately obtained his license to become a long-haul truck driver. They have since moved to Ohio, which is better for his job, but I (Embry) still offer tutoring on-line in reading to their older daughter and talk with mom periodically to help improve her English.  They seem to be thriving despite Covid; the girls are in part-time in-person school and part-time on-line school.  It is not ideal, but they are learning. 
Our partnership with Christ Church Georgetown and St. John's Georgetown, two Episcopal parishes, led to the adoption of a second family, the Habibs, in fall 2016.  They arrived from Afghanistan, and at the time the family consisted of mom, dad, and two young daughters. We helped them find housing near the Haydaris in Mt. Rainier, and all three parishes contributed furniture for their new apartment.  When they arrived, mom was pregnant and soon after a new American citizen, a little boy, arrived. They have since had another little boy, born just last December.  Our assistance to the Habibs was similar to that provided to the Haydaris, except that--because of the financial support from all three parishes--we were able to pay their rent (with assistance from an All Souls endowment grant) while dad studied for his engineering exams.  He had worked for the U.S. Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan, and succeeded at passing his exams in the U.S.  He obtained a job working as an engineer on the purple line metro project, but it has been stalled lately, and he is currently out of work.  If anyone at All Souls has contacts in the engineering profession please let me know (, and I will pass you on to him.
As you can see, the All Souls refugee project provided welcome support to two wonderful families, who are both on their way to becoming solid middle class American citizens.  These hard-working individuals, and their children, will enrich American society in so many ways.  It is very significant to me that the latest child, Mateen Habib, was born during the week that my dear partner in this effort, Steve Merrill, passed away.  I imagined their souls passing on the way to and from heaven.
The worldwide refugee crisis is still very much with us.  With the new administration taking hold, it is possible that the flow of refugees to the U.S. will start up again.  If so, All Souls might want to consider whether we would again adopt a refugee family post-Covid.  It is extremely rewarding work.


Last Published: March 5, 2021 7:59 AM
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