Yesterday evening a few of us visited the Catholic Charities office (2625 Zanker Rd Suite 201). We met with Reza Odabaee, one of their full-time employees, who gave us a tour of the center. We also met with one of their officials who answered our questions.
Catholic Charities is a non-profit organization that operates nationwide to provide help and services for the refugees, troubled kids, senior citizens, and the poor in general. They have a wide range of programs: educational (e.g. teaching English and computer skills), housing, employment and job placement, counselling, financial and legal services, just to name a few.
The organization is in fact a United Way agency. Interestingly enough, they're also affiliated with several international organizations including ICMC, which in early- to mid-80's helped bring thousands of Iranian refugees to U.S.
Recently, the center has been quite involved with the Bosnian refugees. Reza took us to a small and inexpensive apartment complex in San Jose (San Thomas & Williams), where they've placed about fifteen Bosnian refugee families. The families are mostly on welfare right now. They are mostly unemployed since they cannot speak English and/or have health problems.
We visited with several of the families. It was quite an experience. They all were so excited to see us. Despite the language barrier, the horrible war they've been through and the hardship they've endured, and the difficult financial conditions they deal with now, it is amazing how warm, friendly, and hospitable they are. They're in a way like us Iranians; they are in fact all Moslems. Not that this should have anything to do with us helping them. I know that this may be difficult to ignore, but at least in principle they're human beings in need of help and that's all that should matter.
They've come from decent, normal, and functional families that have lost just about everything but hope. Among them, there are physicians, lawyers, and journalists.
I've never been into community service and charity work other than occational donation of money or a bag of cloths to charities, but yesterday was an all together different experience. You hear about this type of stories (or even the ones far worse) often, but seeing one for yourself is different. According to Reza, they, more than anything else, need employment and moral/emotional support. we intend to help out either individually or as a group. We don't exactly know how yet, but here are a few ideas: They'd be willing to do different jobs (house/yard work, baby sitting, etc). So we can help them find a job, refer them to a friend, or hire them ourselves. We can pay them an occasional visit and perhaps take out the kids and do something fun with them. We can give them cloths and household goods that we no longer need. We can talk to the volunteer coordinator in the center and possibly help out with their educational programs (English, computers).
I encourage you to take an initiative to get in touch with Reza Odabaee (408-944-0362x170) or with one of us and find out more about this. By the way, if you like to help and you don't care to go through Catholic Charities, that's perfectly fine. We can put you in touch directly with the families. I really think we can make a difference. Thanks.