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BZBI and Society Hill Synagogue Receive the HIAS PA Keeping America’s Promise Award

October 17, 2019

Below are remarks delivered by Kerry Coughlin, HIAS PA Community Engagement Specialist, at Wednesday’s luncheon honoring volunteer members of BZBI and Society Hill Synagogue.

Good afternoon, I am Kerry Coughlin, the Community Engagement Specialist here. I want to again thank each of our volunteers for the incredible compassion and commitment you bring to our work daily.

Being recognized for their volunteer efforts with the Keeping America’s Promise award (l-r beginning second from left) are Anne Albert, Eileen Dwell, Carmie Levine, Gwen Freedman, and Rebecca Krasner. They are joined by Rabbi Abe Friedman.

Today we are honoring one of our congregational support groups. Through this model, a group works together to support an immigrant or refugee family for one year.  The group assigns roles to its members, maintains a regular schedule with the family, serves as a central communications liaison, and troubleshoots and triages issues – while also working to build trust with a family who may, understandably, be suspicious and uncomfortable with a group of strangers entering their home and lives. While the purpose of the model is to share responsibility such that no one person is bearing the brunt of the work, it can still come with it s challenges, and requires a lot of emotional energy and passion from everyone involved.

The folks receiving the award today – members of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel and Society Hill Synagogue – decided they wanted to add one other nuance to the model: to bring together two different congregations, which is a first for HIAS PA.

When I met this core group of volunteers, I was immediately struck by how much energy and enthusiasm they had to support the Congolese family we had identified for them. They accepted the unknowns without hesitation, prepared to learn as they went and to approach the relationship with humility and curiosity. 

On a logistical level, the core group of volunteers remained so dedicated throughout their one year commitment – and beyond. They were organized, well-documented, and communicative. They were also incredibly resourceful and strong problem solvers. But on an emotional level, it was such a joy to watch their relationship with the family grow and to see how their approaches to different situations changed and developed over time in order to best empower the family and lead to their self-sufficiency. They showed up for the family when it mattered and when it was needed. Each volunteer built very genuine relationships with each person in the family.

I’d like to highlight some of the most significant accomplishments of this group of dedicated individuals.  

  • First, the volunteers helped the family to navigate the medical system and strived to make sure each family member had improved and increased access to healthcare.
  • Additionally, they connected the kids to education resources. They helped to enroll them in summer and afterschool programs and dedicated themselves to make sure the kids had everything they needed to be successful in academic settings.
  • Finally, they helped the family to move to a bigger and more appropriate home.  This was perhaps the biggest undertaking for these volunteers, but they remained committed during this complicated process and collectively advocated for and rallied around the family to make it happen.

On behalf of HIAS PA, I want to thank each of you for your compassion, perseverance, devotion, and empathy.  It is my honor to present this recognition to you.