Meet one of our Community Support Teams, Indy Community Yoga. Our Community Support Teams (which were previously called co-sponsor groups) volunteer for 3 to 6 months. After being matched with a client family, they help Exodus in numerous ways to welcome the family to Indiana and support their life ahead. The Indy Community Yoga group was matched with a family of 8 from Afghanistan, and we spoke with them about their experience volunteering with Exodus and connecting with the family.
Indy Community Yoga is a local nonprofit meditation and yoga community that organizes Community Care projects with partners like Exodus to reduce harm in Indianapolis. Many of the group members were moved while watching the news about the evacuation of Afghanistan in late 2021. Tony Wiederhold, who founded and organizes the group, was particularly moved by the evacuation of Kabul in late 2021; it was reminiscent of his family’s experience evacuating from Saigon in 1975. They all wanted to find a way to help welcome Afghan evacuees. Some members of the group volunteered with the American Red Cross at Camp Atterbury but wanted to do more. With the enthusiastic support of Indy Community Yoga’s board, Tony reached out to Exodus about forming a Community Support Team.
Tony invited others to join the team and donate through friends, family, and social media, and received an enthusiastic response. The group was made up of individuals who were experienced in working with people of different cultures and refugees, including one team member who had worked in Afghanistan and speaks Dari, but they also had team members who had little or no experience. Every one of them was a caring person who wanted to welcome a refugee family and help them make a fresh start.
The team went through an orientation and training with Exodus and was matched with their family in November 2021.
They jumped in straight away, helping with the housing set-up and meeting the family as they were arriving to their new home. They also prepared a welcome meal for the family for their first night in Indianapolis. From there, the team helped with learning how to ride the bus, transportation to doctor’s appointments and the grocery store, navigating services like the local food pantry, helping them set up a bank account, connecting the family with driver’s education, and more.
Having a team lent flexibility to what everyone in the group was responsible for. Some members only had time to help transport the family to one appointment or help with a one-off grocery store run, but every member’s contribution supported the family. Some members really connected with the women in the family over clothes and meshing what is available at American stores with the styles they were used to back home. Others enjoyed simply spending time with the family and finding the ways in which they connected, learning more about their culture, and how they fit together.
One thing the team learned was that supporting the family meant helping them to achieve independence and self-sufficiency outside of the support from the team, because that was the best way to set up the family for long-term success. This also allowed their relationship with the family to grow into one of friendship, and some members have kept that close connection even though the group wrapped up their full-time support a few months ago.
Tony said that it was a privilege to work with such a caring and dedicated team and to support a family of Afghan evacuees in our community. The team agreed that what the family has accomplished so far has been amazing, and the connections they developed reflect how developing a sense of community is so important in welcoming refugee families to Indy.
We asked the team if they have any advice for future groups who might be interested in forming a Community Support Team and their biggest recommendations were to first assemble a team of compassionate individuals, and then to dive into the relationship. Lead with care, use a group text, and be honest with yourselves and the family you are walking alongside about what you will be able to commit to both as a team and individually. They said that at the end of the day, the most important thing is showing up and being there for the family.
Thank you to the Indy Community Yoga group for all their work and dedication in supporting our clients and being a big part of welcoming them to the community. We are so grateful for their time and energy!
If you are interested in forming a Community Support Team, please feel free to reach out to Chelsea Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org!