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Delaware's Jewish Family Services eases transition for refugees in the First State

Jewish Family Services (JFS) in Delaware has its roots in helping Jews resettle across the country from the former Soviet Union, Germany, South America and others through a national organization called the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, or HIAS. But after another surge of immigration in 1988, with many Jews settling in Delaware, the HIAS partnership ended.


JFS then realized the importance of the resettlement process and applied for a state contract to help all refugees resettle, find jobs, education, medical care and more.


They’ve had a state contract since 2002, assisting in the adjustment period for the first five years they’re in the First State.  

Delaware Public Media’s Megan Pauly spoke with Jones Nhinson Williams of JFS, who’s helping refugees settle in Delaware.


Jones Nhinson Williams is from Liberia, and has been in Delaware since 2006. He’s spent almost a decade with Jewish Family Services, helping refugees from various countries with a wide array of needs.


"Identification is a key component of what we do," Nhinson said. "Because if you don’t have a social security card, if you don’t have employment authorization, if you don’t have a driver’s license there’s no way you can obtain employment."


He manages a caseload of 50-75: traveling to clients’ homes to help them figure out everything from healthcare needs, their job search, and even trying to ensure that they aren’t taken advantage of.


"We had a major case where a particular client was being exploited to some extent by a law firm," Williams said. "They came in and said sign here, sign this place, sign this other place. And they were just signing, not knowing they were signing their own death warrant. So we get involved in some of these things, but we also have limits."


Williams’ role is part of a government contract to help refugees for five years after they’ve resettled in Delaware.


Executive Director of Jewish Family Services of Delaware Dory Zatuchni says one of the major emerging needs in Delaware’s refugee community is human trafficking.


“And understanding the horrors and complications when someone is not connected to an agency or a service," she said. "If these people come in, I mean…there are young women that are just lost forever because they become sex slaves. It’s happening right here in Delaware. The 95 corridor is the best place for people to be picked up.”


And she said mental health is another major need: with not enough psychiatrists speaking languages other than English.


She says the population they serve is only 10% Jewish: with people from Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and many more receiving assistance.


And she adds that the families want to blend in while maintaining their own culture.


Through Obama’s recent plan to accept 10,000 Syrians into the US this year, Jewish Family Services in Delaware is hoping to help resettle 13 Syrian refugees in the First State through partnerships with other organizations.


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