Eastern Nazarene College community enriched by refugee welcome center

Eastern Nazarene College community enriched by refugee welcome center

Daniel Sperry for Nazarene News
| 12 Oct 2023
ENC Family Welcome Center

Caleb Michaels and a child help put together playground equipment for Family Welcome Center at Eastern Nazarene College — photo courtesy of ENC.

Eastern Nazarene College has been providing space for refugees since August as they legally enter the United States of America. The Family Welcome Center provides temporary shelter for dozens of families from harrowing circumstances as well as opportunities for ENC students to put the missional education they are receiving into practice.

Bay State Community Services oversees the Family Welcome Center. The services are two-fold: temporary housing managed by AMI — a state-contracted shelter management firm — as well as transitional assistance and health services provided by various state agencies. 

“The families that we’re getting, they’re taking this legal path towards asylum and refugee status,” said L. Michaels, associate director of missional engagement at Eastern Nazarene College. “So the two organizations — Bay State and AMI — are helping them to make sure everything is in order and they don’t run into any roadblocks.”

On the ground floor of the center, Bay State Community Services helps families find out what services, permanent housing, and benefits they can access. The building also includes more than 55 rooms and three apartments that can be used as temporary housing. All spaces are furnished with free laundry machines and play areas for children. Those in housing receive catered meals, and when the shelter is full, families are sent to another temporary housing situation with to-go meals provided.

The housing aspect of the shelter is managed by AMI, which also provides on-site nurses and doctors to help families undergo health checks and receive treatment for ongoing medical issues like diabetes or asthma. 

Michaels believes the co-existence of the student body and families seeking refuge and asylum is a beautiful partnership.

“Our family guests are all so happy to be here,” Michaels said. “It’s been wonderful to see little ones playing out on the lawn and families doing life together and being in a safe space.”

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts first approached ENC for this temporary welcome center and shelter, and the proposal fit with the university’s goals.

“Eastern Nazarene College’s mission is to provide a transformational education that equips diverse students to lead and serve our world as agents of Christ’s love and truth,” said Eastern Nazarene College President Colleen Derr in a statement. “ENC is in a unique position to lean into our mission in a very practical way and in our own backyard. This initiative is an opportunity to serve families in need and provide our students with unique, enhanced educational and co-educational experiences.”

Students have been able to get involved in a variety of ways. AMI and Bay State offer a number of internships specifically for ENC students to help participate in the welcome center and gain experience in the fields they wish to enter, such as social work and business. The center hopes to expand the positions to early childhood development and law-related internships in the 2024 spring semester.

“A huge part of our identity as a Nazarene school is we’re here to spiritually form students,” Michaels said. “We want to send students back out into the world who care about ... other people and the mission of making disciples who make disciples."

ENC students have also created service projects that benefit the families. Caleb Michaels, the student chaplain for service engagement, has overseen multiple donation drives and service projects to aid those utilizing the Welcome Center.

Caleb says items like winter coats and warm weather clothes are vital right now since most of the families are from Haiti and don’t have appropriate clothing for the fall and upcoming winter seasons.

The student body’s most recent project was to assemble some playground equipment and a sandbox for the children to use. Caleb said multiple students and faculty members participated, along with some of the children.

“Obviously, the reasons people had to come here are not great,” Caleb said. “But it’s great that we are able to help them and bring them into our community despite those bad circumstances. It’s really helping to make ENC a place where we are really being the community of God that we’re supposed to be in this world.”

He hopes the mutual impact that the Family Welcome Center has had on the ENC students and its community motivates others to meet the needs of their communities as well.

“I really hope that this inspires more people to seek out ways and opportunities to actually be in the world and the community and be actively showing God’s love to people,” Caleb said. “It’s so important that we actually do things, and we don’t just talk about it.” 



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