Friday, May 20, 2022

Person of the Week

Delcie McGrath: Furnishing the Future

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Delcie McGrath has coordinated local efforts to furnish a home for a family from Afghanistan seeking refuge in the U.S. Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

Delcie McGrath has coordinated local efforts to furnish a home for a family from Afghanistan seeking refuge in the U.S. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier)

International news can seem remote but the connections to a far more local world are very real. Just ask Delcie McGrath. Delcie has been part of a team working on refugee resettlement this area.

The local effort is a project of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven, which is responsible for much of the resettlement in Connecticut, partnering with a community organization, The Valley Stands Up (TVSU), an independent civic group in the Lower Connecticut River Valley.

Mark Pierce, a TVSU board member who is heading the resettlement project, recruited volunteers from churches, civic organizations, and local businesses. In all, he said, the were some 30 people involved.

“It takes a lot of people to resettle a family,” says Delcie, who heads the Outreach and Justice Committee at the First Congregational Church in Essex.

Other groups involved in the project illustrate the breadth of the effort. Besides the First Congregational Church in Essex, other Essex churches include the First Baptist Church and St. John’s Episcopal Church; also the Church of the Holy Trinity in Middletown, First Summerfield Methodist Church in New Haven, as well as the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ. Local businesses include the Clark Group, Walmart, and Knox Painting. Other groups involved include Middletown Rotary Club, Old Lyme VFW Post 1467, and the Oxford Academy in Westbrook.

In addition, there were some 90 individual donations to the local resettlement effort.

The resettlement group has located and set up an apartment in Middletown for an Afghan refugee family that recently moved into its new quarters. Middletown was selected because, among other advantages, there were both public transportation and employment opportunities that could be accessed by the transit or by walking.

The refugee resettlement group provides much needed assistance to the new families, but the families themselves must focus on working towards self-sufficiency.

The recently arrived family, Delcie says, is coping not only with all the adjustments of a new country, but also new additions to their family. The mother gave birth to twins while temporary refugee quarters awaiting resettlement.

The group working on refugee resettlement formed before the current Afghan refugee crisis in response to ongoing refugee situations in other countries in Africa and the Middle East. Teams were formed to help with different aspects of refugee resettlement.

Initially anticipating refugees from the civil war in Syria, Pierce looked for Arabic interpreters. Afghans, however, do not speak Arabic but principally use two other languages, Dari and Pashto. The Afghan family now in Middletown speaks Pashto, but the interpreters Pierce found were fluent in Dari, with some, but not sufficient, fluency in Pashto. Pierce thinks he has finally been able to locate a Pashto interpreter.

Before the pandemic, when Pierce first organized the refugee resettlement program, Delcie’s job was to head the group involved with furnishing new living quarters. But her committee’s first efforts, like the work of everybody involved in the resettlement project, stopped with the pandemic.

“With COVID, everything came to a screeching halt,” Delcie says.

The teams reorganized last spring. When the word came to that a refugee family would be arriving, Delcie’s group cleaned and furnished the Middletown apartment. Furniture was donated both by church members and others who heard of the need.

“The volunteers were amazing,” she says.

And the good news, she adds, is that the family is doing well.

Delcie is an Essex native. On her maternal side, her great, great grandparents, Alan and Maria Smith settled in Essex in 1870. Delcie’s maiden name is a familiar one in the area, even if it remains a challenge to spell: Miezejeski.

“On roll call, they always stopped at my name,” she recalls. “Sometimes I couldn’t spell it either.”

Her uncle, Joseph Miezejeski, who died in 2017, was a former first selectman of Deep River.

Delcie went to Eastern Connecticut State College (now University) planning to become a elementary school teacher, but when she graduated, teaching jobs were scarce. Instead, she found factory work.

“It paid the bills,” she recalls.

She took a civil service test, and got a part-time job with Connecticut’s Department of Labor, initially a temporary position, as an interviewer for unemployment. That temporary work turned out to be full time positions with the Department of Labor for 35 years until she retired in 2009. Much of her time was spent as a job search coordinator.

Retirement gives her time for her family, including seven grandchildren ranging from 18 years old to eight months. “I’ve babysat for all of them,” she says. “I’m babysitting the youngest now.”

Delcie is also a longtime usher at the Ivoryton Playhouse.

“Even when it was River Rep,” she recalls.

River Rep moved from the playhouse in 2005. Delcie stopped ushering for a few years but then came back.

“I love the musicals,” she says.

She has also volunteered at the Shoreline Soup Kitchen and the Essex Historical Society, where she has done data entry to record things donated to the society.

Delcie has participated a number of mission trips with the First Congregational Church to different parts of the country, from New Hampshire to North Carolina and Texas.

She has also done trips through the church with an organization headquartered in Westport called Simply Smiles that builds foster homes and helps struggling children and families. Delcie has worked with Simply Smiles in Oaxaca, Mexico, and in South Dakota with the Cheyenne River and Lakota Sioux tribes.

She has traveled in the United States but has worldwide travel that still interests her.

“I’d like to see Scotland and Poland,” she says. “Like everything else, it’s a matter of finding the time.”

To find out about helping or contributing to the refugee resettlement program, email Mark Pierce at mpierce118@comcast.net

 


Rita Christopher is the Senior Correspondent for Zip06. Email Rita at news@shorepublishing.com.

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