Thanks to refugee placement, more than 400 families now call Alaska home

Thanks to refugee placement, more than 400 families now call Alaska home
Published: Dec. 26, 2022 at 8:57 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Imagine having to flee called home — without warning and with little time — only to end up in another country and having to start over.

That was the reality for approximately 400 families who now call Alaska home; a transition that takes a community effort, but begins with one specific agency, Catholic Social Services.

State Refugee Coordinator Issa Spatrisano said Catholic Social Services oversees resettlement for all of Alaska.

“We administer the federal grant dollars that come into the state and ensure services, no matter where you live in the state, are offered to you so you can access your refugee benefits,” Spatrisano explained.

Everything from classes on American culture, laws, health insurance, schools, and money are taught to refugees.

“Really the refugee program is structured in the ways that all the services that then surround you really are ongoing culture orientation for the next six months to a year,” Spatrisano said.

In addition to helping refugees get resettled, Spatrisano is one of the first faces they see when arriving at the airport.

“For most families in my experience, what we see when they get here is that sense of relief, that sense of safety, and especially for parents with kids, it’s looking down and knowing my child has an opportunity here,” she said.

It’s a feeling that Hope Gasana felt four years ago after fleeing her home country of Kenya.

“My life was really in hard time, because I was there by myself, I lived in the shelter,” Gasana said.

For her, adjusting to American life wasn’t easy. Between the language barrier, food culture, learning her way around, and adapting to Alaska’s colder climate, Gasana had to learn a new way of living.

“I grew up in the village where we didn’t eat sugar food,” Gasana said. “Cooking food and adding sugar in was kind of strange for me.”

“I think there’s a relatable piece about that in Alaska,” Spatrisano added. “So many of us came from another place to here, that’s what refugees are doing, and so together we all become Alaska and that makes us all stronger.”

Spatrisano said Catholic Social Services is always in need of volunteers; there are ways to help or even be a youth or family mentor to refugees.