Miriam Aryan, an owner at Syrian Kitchen who came to Salem as a refugee in 2016, puts together an order on Nov. 12, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

A recently achieved nonprofit designation will aid Salem for Refugees just as the number of displaced people eligible to resettle in Salem is exploding.

In summer 2021, Luke Glaze, the organization’s first executive director, and its board completed the paperwork required for nonprofit status, making it an independent organization and facilitating its capacity to contract independently with international refugee resettlement entities. (Disclosure: Property owner Luke Glaze also owns Salem Reporter's current office space.)

That will come in handy as Salem for Refugees expects to welcome 100 new Afghan refugees by Feb. 15, 2022.

"We coordinate a wide range of services based on the needs of each family, with each family being an individual case," said Glaze. Four dedicated, multilingual case managers coordinate a myriad of services for each family, including housing, food, language, education, and other supports. Finding housing for them is the agency's biggest challenge.

Additionally, ten “Good Neighbor” teams wrap around each family, helping them navigate their new city's systems. Glaze's staff of 14 and over 200 volunteers work to ensure Salem's newest residents are comfortable, engaged, and content in their new surroundings.

Salem for Refugees achieved its independence just as Salem's need for resettlement services is growing, but the organization has been preparing for that growth since summer 2016. Back then, agency founders Doug and Anya Holcomb enlisted the aid of Salem Alliance Church, Catholic Charities, and Salem Leadership Foundation to develop a resettlement community that would welcome”'our global neighbors as we would want to be welcomed,” according to the organization’s website. 

In their roles as the church’s Pastors for Refugee Ministries, the Holcombs began weaving together a network of resources, volunteers, and social services designed to provide the supports incoming refugees would need to establish a home in the Salem area.

Since then, national requirements for refugee resettlement processes have evolved, and Salem's capacity to accomplish those has grown.

The U.S. State Department coordinates refugee services through nine national voluntary agencies, one of which is World Relief, a global, Christian organization that facilitates services through local churches. Salem for Refugees became a contracted affiliate of World Relief to provide resettlement services in Salem in fall 2021, receiving expedited approval due to the increasing number of Afghan refugees traveling to the country.

In the meantime, the organization was also building capacity, adding churches, nonprofit groups, public agencies, and community service organizations to its roster of support services. Between 2016 and 2021, Salem for Refugees welcomed over 350 people from central and eastern Asia, Africa, and South America. 

World Relief has now tapped Salem to receive hundreds of new refugees through 2022, Glaze said. The organization’s nonprofit independence opens more doors to support and services for those supplanted families.

"Salem benefits so much from its new international residents. Refugees share their cultures through their entrepreneurism and contribute much more to their communities than they consume," Glaze said. 

In addition to the incoming wave of Afghan people, the agency is also expecting to continue receiving eligible refugees from other countries.

One of those new residents is already giving back to her new hometown. Restauranteur Miriam Aryan, who came to Salem in 2016 from Syria, held a ‘soft open’ of her Syrian Kitchen in Salem's Fork Forty Food Hall on Nov. 12 after two summers of serving her baklava, nammura, and chocolate balls at the Salem Saturday Market. 

"I always thought it was an impossible dream to own my own restaurant," she says in Arabic with the aid of Salem for Refugees volunteer and translator, Iyad Khalaf. "Salem for Refugees has been my partner, helping me to achieve that dream." 

Aryan cites the organization and Khalaf as significant contributors to the launch of her new venture, primarily through assisting with the paperwork necessary to open a business in Oregon and with finding the space at Fork Forty. The agency also helped her settle her husband, four children,  and her extended family of 8, including several sisters, all of whom arrived together as refugees.

For Khalaf, volunteering with the agency has been a way to contribute to his new community, too. An immigrant from Palestine, Khalaf arrived with his parents and siblings in the United States in 1971. After college, he worked in the oil industry until 2016, when he retired to the Willamette Valley. “I love it here,” he said. “I enjoy helping others find their way to a new life in this beautiful place.”

Pam Sornson is a freelance writer based in Salem. Contact her at [email protected].

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