Our Neighbors in Need: Supporting Refugees and their Families

Written by Jessica Gladden, LMSW, PhD

June 14, 2022

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you had to quickly flee your country, carrying only what you can carry? Have you ever had to worry about bombs falling on your home and the safety of your children so much that you tape their blood type on their clothing when they go to school?

Most of us have never had to face the threat of violence the way many of our refugee neighbors have.

I have been working with refugee families ever since my first trip to southern Africa in 1999. I have met so many wonderful, brilliant, resilient people. They are often the strongest people I have met, and the most courageous. They are often leaving their country due to a fear of persecution for who they are. For the lucky one percent of people who actually make it to be resettled in the United States or another developed country, life is still difficult. Most have been through extreme trauma. They have anxiety over what their life here, cut off from most people from their culture who speak their language,will look like. And, depression often sets in once they realize how difficult life here in the United States can be.

As mental health practitioners, we often hope to support refugee and other new American families. This past year, we have been partnering with Treetops Collective to provide support groups to newly arrived people from Afghanistan. Most of these people are highly educated individuals who worked with the United States government and had to flee for their lives this past summer. Most of them are men who had to leave their families behind with the hopes that they would eventually be given a visa to join them here in Grand Rapids. I expect that soon we will see a new group arriving from Ukraine.

In addition to assisting with developing and running the support group, we have a group of therapists here at the Fountain Hill Center who have committed to seeing refugee clients on an individual basis. Most of these individuals have Medicaid or no insurance. We have been working in collaboration with other local refugee service agencies and the State of Michigan to reduce barriers for individuals to receive therapeutic services.

What is the biggest barrier? The cost of interpretation.

Interpreters end up costing about $45 per hour, including time to have them assist in setting up the appointment with the individual who needs therapy. Reimbursement from Medicaid is usually around $50. Generous grants help us cover the costs, but any donations would allow us to offer additional services to refugee clients.

The Fountain Hill Center