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Ruth Gardner receives Donna Craig Volunteer Award from Kentucky Refugee Ministries

 

The PC(USA)’s Human Resources director catalyzed Presbyterian Center welcome effort in partnership with Central Presbyterian Church

by Mark Koenig, Administrative Services Group | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Nyirankwano and her family were greeted at the Louisville airport by Ruth Gardner, members of the coordinating team and an interpreter from Kentucky Refugee Ministries. (Photo courtesy of the Welcome Coordinating Team)

LOUISVILLE — The welcome of people forced to leave their homes to find a new place to live played a role in Jesus’ life and his teachings. Motivated by fear for their son’s safety, Mary and Joseph took Jesus and sought refuge in Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15). Jesus would later proclaim that in welcoming people we do not know, we welcome him (Matthew 25:35).

In response, Presbyterians across the country and around the world have been, and are, involved in welcoming refugees as our siblings and new friends. Louisville is no exception.

Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM) leads this work in Louisville and other parts of Kentucky. Donna Craig, a member of Highland Presbyterian Church, founded KRM in 1990. Presbyterian congregations and individuals provide financial support, prayer support and people power to KRM. The list of recent co-sponsors working with KRM includes Anchorage, Beulah, Harvey Browne, Highland, Second, and Springdale Presbyterian churches. It also includes the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Central Presbyterian Church.

On Friday, Ruth Gardner, Human Resources director for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation, received a Donna Craig Volunteer Service Award at KRM’s Global Gourmet fundraiser. These awards honor Craig’s “enduring vision of KRM being an organization that brings compassionate and civic-minded members of our community together to help vulnerable refugee and immigrant families rebuild their lives.” Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner of Temple Shalom also received an award and a joint award went to Sheila Ward of All Peoples, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, and Dr. Muhammad Babar, Muslim Americans for Compassion.

Gardner received the award in recognition of her work to bring together her colleagues at the Presbyterian Center and partners at Central Presbyterian Church to serve as refugee co-sponsors.

Hearing in late August 2021 that refugees from Afghanistan were coming to Louisville, Gardner contacted KRM about the Presbyterian Center serving as a co-sponsor for a refugee family. Since the Presbyterian Center co-sponsored a family from Syria in 2017, Gardner felt sure her colleagues would agree.

When KRM said it would gratefully accept her offer, Gardner posed two questions to her colleagues: Would you support such an effort? Would you serve on a team to coordinate such an effort? In both cases, the response was “yes!” Gardner also reached out to Central Presbyterian Church with the same questions and received the same answers.

Preparing the apartments was an important part of the welcome that was extended. (Photo courtesy of the Welcome Coordinating Team)

The executive leaders the Administrative Services Group, the Office of the General Assembly, and the Presbyterian Mission Agency offered enthusiastic support to the effort. A coordinating team was created that included individuals from ASG, OGA, PMA, Presbyterian Women, and Central Presbyterian Church. Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program, Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, and Presbyterian Foundation colleagues helped with donations. An anonymous donor made a gift for the effort through the Presbyterian Foundation.

Lists of needed items were made and circulated. Donations of household goods and cash arrived.

In mid-September 2021, KRM told Gardner that a family was coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo. KRM asked if the Presbyterians would welcome this family or if they would prefer to wait for people from Afghanistan who would arrive later. Gardner polled the coordinating team. The first member to respond said, “First family in need. We will help whoever is in need.” The team agreed.

On September 30, 2021, a family of five from the Democratic Republic of Congo arrived at the Louisville airport: a mother, three daughters and a grandson. Gardner and team members welcomed the family and took them to the apartment that had been prepared for them.

Financial support and donations of household items and furniture continued to pour in, filling most of a large section of the first floor of the Presbyterian Center. With this abundance, the Presbyterian Center-Central Presbyterian Church partnership decided to continue co-sponsoring and welcoming families.

Donations from Central Presbyterian Church were added on a regular basis to the furniture, household goods and other needed items stored in The Spot at the Presbyterian Center. (Photo courtesy of the Welcome Coordinating Team)

A total of five apartments, including the first one for the family from the DRC, were furnished with furniture, household goods and food. Interactions continue between representatives of the co-sponsoring organizations and our new friends. Periodic requests for specific needs are shared at the Presbyterian Center and at Central and the people come through with the requested items.

Gardner acknowledges the role played by Donna Craig, Highland Presbyterian Church, other Presbyterian congregations and individuals, and organizations and people across Louisville. “We benefit from the work of those who went before us. We are honored to work with other Presbyterians and with people from the diverse Louisville community,” Gardner said.

This was absolutely a team effort, Gardner says. “I may have suggested sponsoring a family and organized the effort, but it took the support of leadership at the Center and at Central. It took the work of the coordinating team. It took the donations and time of individuals who made donations of what was needed. It took so many of us. To all who played a part, I am thankful.”

Gardner also makes it clear that this award marks a milestone, not an end. “I would like to make support of Kentucky Refugee Ministries an ongoing priority for the Presbyterian Center.” Stay tuned to watch that happen.


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