Pittsburgh’s Hello Neighbor Program
Imagine living in country torn apart by an ongoing war. Imagine surviving a natural disaster but the part of the country where you live has been destroyed. Imagine being afraid of stepping outside your door because you fear being persecuted in your country. Now imagine leaving everything you have ever known behind. Imagine relocating to a country where you have never stepped foot. Imagine starting over with little other than the clothes on your back. That is the experience of a refugee.
Refugees come to the United States because they are fleeing war, the aftermath of a natural disaster, or persecution. The process of coming to the United States as a refugee is extremely difficult. The screenings a refugee must undergo involve the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Department of State, among others. The vetting process can take up to three years to complete. Once vetted and accepted for resettlement in the United States, one of nine national resettlement agencies help refugees restart their lives in the United States.
In the first 90 days, resettlement agencies offer the following services:
- Introduce refugees to the local health care system
- Assist refugees in enrolling in English courses
- Provide information about school options for children
The services provided by resettlement agencies certainly help refugees to begin establishing their new lives in the United States. But a new program in Pittsburgh, Hello Neighbor, aims to connect refugee families with Pittsburgh families in order to more seamlessly integrate refugees into our city and our communities. Hello Neighbor started in January 2017, and it is currently running its first four-month mentorship program, which kicked off on June 1.
Hello Neighbor mentors are given training and guidance before being matched with a refugee family. Once matched, mentors and refugees spend time doing everyday activities such as cooking together, or by going on outings together to Pittsburgh places and events such as museums or sporting events. Mentors also help refugees with tasks that may seem simple to most Americans, but may not have been a part of the refugee’s life in his or her country of birth. Although the official mentorship period runs for four months, mentors and refugees can form lifelong friendships and bonds through this unique opportunity.
Hello Neighbor has a few events scheduled in the remaining months of summer that are open to the public. There is a Pirates game on August 1, Summer Fridays at the Frick on August 11, and an End of Summer Carnival/Potluck on August 26. These events are great opportunities to learn more about the Hello Neighbor program and support refugees who are resettling in Pittsburgh.
Mr. Rogers would be proud of the work Hello Neighbor is doing and of all the Pittsburghers helping our new neighbors feel at home.