Refugee family gets a new start — in Ridgefield

Safe, peaceful, quiet Ridgefield is now home for a refugee family forced from the troubled lands of the Middle East.

“A family of four: parents in their 30s, two boys, kindergarten and preschool,” said Michael Rettger, co-chair of the committee sponsoring them. “They’re Syrian. They’ve been in Turkey two and half years before coming to the U.S.

“They’ve voiced many times, they’re very, very thankful to have had the opportunity to have come to the U.S.,” said Rettger.

Earlier in December, they moved into housing provided by one of Ridgefield’s churches.

“They love the town and they think it’s a beautiful town and they’re so happy to be here, and they’re slowly getting themselves oriented in space and place,” Rettger said. “We’ve introduced them to the library. We’ve introduced them to Ballard Park. We’re beginning to get them oriented to how grocery stores work here in the U.S.

“The winter weather has been a challenge. They happened to get here before the last cold spell, and it’s definitely colder here than they’re used to.”

The goal is employment and self-sufficiency.

“Our focus has been on getting them set to think about working in the future, so very quickly we got them Social Security cards, which is what they need to be able to work in the U.S. Our next priority will be to grow and expand their English skills,” Rettger said.

“The father has some English capabilities,” he said. “They both can comprehend a little bit more English than they can speak.”

They’re enrolled in English classes with the Literacy Volunteers of America in Danbury.

“And while waiting for that to start, we have our own team of English ESL tutors — teachers who are working with them three or four days a week,” Rettger said.

Then there are the kids.

“Education of their own children is a big priority for the parents, so we’re working on getting the older child enrolled in school,” Rettger said.

The committee is also trying to decide what kind of preschool is best for the younger boy.

Jobs will come with time.

“They both have interesting work histories,” Rettger said.

“Both had post-secondary training and work experience in the medical field while in Syria,” he said.

“They also both worked while in Turkey — he having a daily commute of two, three hours each way to his job for part of the time there.

I think they’re both positioned to be employed here in the U.S. pretty quickly,” he said.

Rettger and Anne O’Brien co-chair Ridgefield’s resettlement committee, an independent volunteer group with roots in local faith communities. They’ve worked with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), a New Haven agency affiliated with the Episcopal Church, that hopes to place about 400 refugees around Connecticut this year.

“Our first priority over the last couple of weeks has been getting them settled and getting them introduced to town,” Rettger said.

“The town’s been incredibly generous. We organized a clothing and household goods drive. We posted things that were needed in terms of clothing and stuff — basically the entire list was filled in about three days,” he said.

“People have been dropping off gift cards and toys for the boys at St. Stephen’s.

“We’ve probably got 100 volunteers who’ve indicated they’re interested in helping. We’ll now be able to utilize their skills for driving, child care when the parents are taking classes,” Rettger said.

“The town has been extremely generous with material support. Now we just need to execute on helping them get better English and helping them get jobs — this is what we signed up to do, basically.”