A group of Socorroans are hoping to help a refugee Afghan family settle in town.

Local residents are forming a sponsor circle, a new approach to helping Afghans resettle in the US after being evacuated in 2021. Many families are still living on US military bases, including Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo. The program pairs a sponsor circle, which has to include at least five adults from the community, with a family, to help the family settle into US life for 90 days.

“These are allies to American troops,” said sponsor circle member David Burleigh. “How can we get them off these Air Force bases and incorporated into the United States? They can’t go home. They don’t feel safe going home.”

The sponsor circle has to fundraise at least $2,275 per person in the family to help them with expenses, help secure housing, provide basic necessities like furniture and clothing, assist in completing paperwork to help the family access public benefits, connect them to services like education and health care, help the family with English language acquisition and help secure employment.

The Socorro group, dubbed Socorro Friends, is still getting certified. Each member of the group has to pass a background check and at least 60 percent of the funds have to be raised before they can submit their full application. Group member Kim Schaffer expects they will be able to submit their application by January 10.

After the application’s submitted, they are hopeful a family will choose to come to Socorro.

With the program, families are not required to stay past the three months of support, but the sponsors are hopeful they’ll be able to help a family settle in town long term. Helping family members find jobs that will sustain them will be important, said Schaffer.

The group already has someone who can help with translating needs, someone who can help connect the family with a mosque if needed, and have tentatively secured housing. The sponsor circle is collecting donations, like furniture, bedding and clothing, to help with living needs.

“They need to be set up for three months,” said Schaffer. “We need enough money. They need internet, computer, all those things that if you were moving somewhere, what are your essentials.”

For group member John Leeper, the project feels personal.

“I was in Peace Corps decades ago. It was in Nepal, not Afghanistan, and so many people were good to me,” he said. “This seems like a time when I can pay this forward. I can think of all the times people reached out to me and helped me, well this is the time I can reach out and help somebody else.”

The group has a Socorro Sponsor Circle bank account set up with First State Bank if anyone is interested in contributing funds to the effort.

“Hopefully we’ll be doing this again,” said Leeper. “I think these families will be a huge asset to our community and to our country.”

For more information on the Socorro sponsor circle, contact [email protected].

Cathy Cook, Editor, El Defensor Chieftain