As you probably know, since the week of Christmas, our congregation has been a part of the effort to support the 60 (mostly) Venezuelans who arrived in Fort Collins. What you may not know is what led to this action, what has happened since, or what comes next. Here is an update on all three:
Backstory: What led to the need in the first placeThroughout 2022, immigrant-connected organizations at the border were conversing with ally organizations in Denver to let them know that they anticipated sending people to Denver as their systems were overtaxed. This prediction came true in early December when Denver started to see busloads of immigrants arriving, mainly from Venezuela but also from other South and Central American countries, especially Nicaragua and Guatemala. By mid-December, Denver had counted over 3,000 newcomers arriving in the prior few weeks, taxing their systems.
Denver reached out to other Colorado Counties, and Larimer was the rare County that responded with willingness and accepted 60 migrants for temporary shelter and support. Foothills was a part of the non-profit and faith-based communities that responded to the County’s outreach and who would provide direct services for the newcomers.
The County coordinated emergency housing through hosts at Peak Community Church, Antioch Church, and a Red Cross shelter established at Embassy Suites. Other organizations – besides Foothills – who responded to the call from the County include Alianza NORCO, ISAAC of Northern Colorado, Fuerza Latina, and Kimberly Salico-Diehl from the American Baptist Church, as well as other faith leaders who connected as individuals.
Our ResponseUpon their arrival, Foothills participated in numerous informational calls, seeking willing volunteers and agencies who would step up to their needs. The County’s services were short-term, and the shelters would be shut down within the next week. No more County services would be provided. As a result, the clock was ticking to find mid-term shelter, as well as connections, and planning for longer-term stability and safety for the newcomers.
We put out a call for volunteers, and over 60 people responded. Thank you.
Ultimately, Foothills became responsible for three main areas of the response: Travel, Housing, and Financial Support.
First, with the volunteer leadership of Cheryl Hazlitt, Jessica Davis, and Sara Tarr, we coordinated travel needs, which included purchasing bus tickets across the country and identifying resources in destination cities. Our volunteers also transported people to the bus station, to their Christmas meals, and helped purchase groceries. Our volunteers also drove people to Denver and local stores. Our volunteers continue to provide occasional transportation assistance to jobs and appointments.
Housing (and Supplies)
Additionally, with the volunteer leadership of Foothills members, Ticie and Tom Rhodes, we coordinated with many of you to identify short-term housing placements for people leaving the emergency shelters who still needed a longer-term plan. Many of you offered your homes and your support with incredible generosity. Many of you provided furniture, supplies, and clothing, and many of you helped get those items to the people who needed them. Ticie, Tom, and I have continued to work with Fuerza Latina and Alianza to identify longer-term housing for all who decided to stay.
Through this work, our Sanctuary Everywhere program has established a new eight-person (volunteer) Village to support one of the recently arriving families through their next few months of resettlement. We are also working with Foothills member Anne Aspen to form another support village around another household. This work will be ongoing, just as it has been with immigrant families since Sanctuary Everywhere began in 2017.
We extend a huge thank you to Ticie and Tom for their many hours of care and leadership and to the many of you who stepped up with housing, hosting, and other emergency needs.
In addition to these volunteer roles, I was blown away by the financial generosity of our community. In a few weeks, we raised over $38,000 to support this work.
These donations came from 175 donors, about 115 Foothills donors, and about 60 individuals and organizations from outside of our church. As a result, we have been able to provide gift cards for clothing and supplies for every person in this group. Thank you to Shanna Henk and Annmarie Fore for their help in coordinating gift cards.
Even more incredibly, we have provided more than $20,000 to fund down payments and the first and last month’s rent for every person who decided to stay in the area. This means your financial support secured housing for 36 adults and four children!
The financial generosity exceeded the most immediate needs, so we have been able to make a $6,000 donation to ISAAC’s emergency fund, which was running low. ISAAC’s emergency fund will provide grants for emergency needs of all kinds, both for recent and future waves of arrivals.
While we might imagine that a Democratic president would significantly shift the landscape for immigrants, asylum cases remain extremely difficult to win, and other legal pathways remain mostly inaccessible for these individuals and others in similar circumstances. The administration has recently indicated that they would be returning to the practice of immigration sweeps and more aggressively pursuing deportation, similar to what we saw under the former administration.
And yet the violence, poverty, and danger of their home countries will continue to motivate people to come to the United States seeking employment, safety, and reunification with loved ones who have previously immigrated here. Indeed, while this was a sudden major influx, this was not new – our Sanctuary Everywhere program has convened seven different villages to companion individuals and families since 2017. Two individuals in our congregation have been regularly accompanying more than 40 Nicaraguans over the last two years.
We anticipate that this steady regular arrival of immigrants will continue in Northern Colorado, and we also anticipate the likelihood of additional influxes of busloads of people over the coming year and beyond.
How we receive and embrace these individuals may be fraught from a political lens, but our faith and our congregational commitments make clear that we are called to see each of them as our neighbor and kin and to respond with this understanding in mind. While the County has said that they will not say yes again without the Governor declaring a state of emergency (and as a result releasing additional funds), we believe we have a moral obligation to receive immigrants seeking shelter and safety. We will not be among those voices who would look at their trauma and turn them away or have them bussed to yet another location.
I have begun weekly conversations with the leadership of Fuerza Latina, ISAAC, and La Cocina, as well as other faith leaders, about the bigger picture and what comes next. We at Foothills need to work with our partners to ask ourselves what our moral obligation means in practice, what effective support looks like, and how to facilitate settlement support in ways that support community connections and cultural integrity. We must consider what sustainability will require for this work and how to fulfill our commitments outside of the emergency. And we need to center the voices of and follow the lead of immigrants themselves. These are the conversations I have just begun, and in the coming months, I will invite all of you to join in and discern what comes next together.
What is clear to me, however, is that once again, you showed that we can be the kind of people we talk about when we talk about our values. We can be the people, in the words of Howard Thurman, who “find the lost, heal the broken, feed the hungry.” Seeing the ease with which so many responded with generosity, compassion, and love has been inspiring and faith-renewing. Thank you.
With that said, sustaining this kind of work takes tremendous resources and commitment. The support we were able to provide to the arrivals was not only made possible through donations to the migrant support fund and the gifts of your time. It was also made possible because of ongoing financial support for the church’s operations.
Behind the scenes, our staff team works tirelessly alongside members to manage logistics, get the word out about needs, and ensure we coordinate effectively with appropriate partner organizations. We rely on our wonderful database to reach out to our community and flexibly receive and distribute donations with accountability and transparency. These systems and structures are only possible with ongoing church staff and operations funding.
Our faith commitments call on us not just to sustain our capacity to respond but to grow our systems, structures, and care whenever and however the need arises – to have the resources and staff to jump in when we receive the call. And as many of you know, right now, our capacity is limited as we are still attempting to fully fund our 2023 budget.
Which is why I ask – if you ended the year with a little more than you expected – would you please consider supporting our operations with a donation? Your support is what makes all of the above possible. It allows us to respond, coordinate, and be not just a voice but a force for justice and love in Northern Colorado. You can donate at foothillsuu.org/donate. Everything you give is tax-deductible and will go directly to supporting Foothills Unitarian.
Thank you so much for your support. To me, this is what we mean when we talk about God. This force of love working through us and among us, responding with generosity, compassion, and a relentless commitment to our common humanity. I am so grateful.