COLLEGE PARK, Md. — When American troops withdrew from Afghanistan last year, thousands of Afghans who helped them found themselves fleeing the country for the U.S.
The outpouring of support for life’s basics came by the truckload.
“We are so grateful to be able to be on the frontlines of this response, this is why we do our work, this is why we are here, but it has taken a community effort,” Kristyn Peck, Lutheran Social Services – Capital Area said last summer.
Yet, housing Afghan refugees remains the top challenge nearly a year later.
That’s where Patty Perillo stepped in.
“’Patty, can we have refugees on our campus,” she recalled being asked. “’Can we make this happen?’”
She faced those questions as vice president of student affairs at the University of Maryland, a sprawling campus of 40,000 students.
There was unoccupied student housing on campus, but getting everything in order for refugee resettlement was something entirely new for them.
“It is not as easy as it sounds,” Perillo said. “It's not just about housing them here, it's making sure they have all of the resources to be successful and for them to thrive, and so it's teaching English as a second language, it's to make sure they have the food resources, that they have transportation, education, jobs.”
In states across the country, a network of universities is stepping up to help house Afghan refugees, as well as offering them education scholarships in some cases. The participating schools include the University of Tulsa, Colorado State University, Indiana University and Virginia Commonwealth University.
“They actually helped our government, as advisors, as handlers, as drivers, as cultural advisors,” Perillo said.
At UMD, they partnered with the International Rescue Committee to house 35 Afghan refugees, including entire families, for an entire year.
“Once we announced that we were housing families, people from all over the campus community reached in and wanted to help out,” Perillo said.
That was just a few short weeks ago, as their new Afghan neighbors slowly get acclimated.
“I hope they realize that this is a community that welcomes them,” Perillo said, “that cares about them.”