International Institute of St. Louis Announces Initiatives to Support Afghan Immigrants

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Jerry Schlichter of Arch Grants speaks at a press conference. - COURTESY FACEBOOK LIVE / INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ST. LOUIS

St. Louis may be getting thousands more Afghan immigrants as a second wave of migration begins, and the International Institute of St. Louis is calling on the community to help make it possible.

Jerry Schlichter of Arch Grants announced in a press conference today that the International Institute already has plans in motion to help Afghans feel more welcomed, but they also need St. Louisans to participate in a four-pronged approach.



Schlichter was joined by the president of the International Institute Arrey Obenson, Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski, Afghan community member Modja Sidiqi and the CEO of Schnuck Markets, Inc Todd Schnuck to talk about the plan as the federal government looks to relocate Afghan families and individuals that are on military bases by the end of next month.

“Today is a call to action,” Schlichter said at the conference. “We can show the support and the welcoming community that we in fact are.”



The four prongs are businesses, government, faith community and philanthropy. Schlichter detailed that the government piece is in good shape because both Mayor Tishaura Jones and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page are supportive of having refugees in the area and understand the importance and need for the community. The philanthropic arm of the plan is also of the utmost importance and has received widespread support from both foundations and individuals. Schlichter emphasized its continuing significance in the months to come as the Institute hopes to take on helping more immigrants settle into the area.

Businesses are also being called on to help the Afghan community to volunteer; Schnuck urged other individuals and organizations to support the International Institute’s efforts, both financially and in providing any housing help that can be found. He also said Schnucks will be providing financial resources for volunteer teams from the company and will be sponsoring individuals and families that come to St. Louis.

In his remarks, Obenson said that when immigrants succeed, the entire community prospers.

“We are thrilled to be welcoming more Afghans, and even more thrilled we have the support of the community,” Obenson continued. “We are living in unprecedented times, and what we have achieved is unprecedented. But, there is still more work to be done.”

Obenson credited the work of many local organizations in assisting the recently settled Afghans get to medical appointments, registering children in schools and assisting with public transportation. Now, he said, the institute is working to build “an elaborate community support program that will accelerate the integration and self-sufficiency for our Afghans who have just arrived.”

In an effort to “try to create a situation where we’ve got an advantage and a leg up,” Schlichter said, 200 iPads will be available to help Afghan families communicate and find jobs, services and more. The institute is also looking to establish an Afghan Chamber of Commerce to encourage entrepreneurship within the community and a housing fund is in the works to “bridge the gap between what federal funds provide and what landlords need.”

Also on the agenda is crafting an Afghan Community Center, creating a newspaper modeled after the one the Bosnian immigrants founded and allotting small business grants to Afghan entrepreneurs. There will also be an indoor soccer field available for Afghan kids, and immersive coding training with translation services provided by Claim Academy St. Louis. These programs are already fully funded and ready to start immediately.

Overall, the International Institute, Schlichter and their partners hope to show the federal government that St. Louis is a city like nowhere else.

“Come here, we will support you, we will back you, and we’re doing it right now,” Schlichter said. “We’re not waiting until everybody comes and then look around and try to start. This is a one-time opportunity, and the challenge we’re making to the St. Louis community is to grab it, take it and run with it.”

Visit iistl.org to see how you can get involved.

Follow Jenna on Twitter at @writesjenna. Email the author at [email protected]
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