Day of LearningThe closing inspiration at the Feb. 10 'Day of Learning' at AHS was led by, from left, Cantor Lisa Doob, Imam Kandeel Javid and the Rev. Leah Lyman Waldron. / Jessie Castellano photos

Nearly 50 people attend presentation

Amid a global humanitarian crisis, members of the Arlington community recently gathered to learn about refugees and discuss ways to support them.

‘A Day of Learning’ was hosted by two town governmental bodies: the Arlington LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission and the Arlington Human Rights Commission and took place at Arlington High School starting at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 10. 

Molly Blaauw Gillis, a Rainbow Commission commissioner, welcomed the nearly 50 attendees. She said she hoped all would leave the event with “a sense of hope and purpose” before introducing keynote speaker Sasha Chanoff, founder and CEO of RefugePoint, a nonprofit whose stated mission is to find lasting solutions for at-risk refugees. 

'Feel very connected'

Chanoff spoke about the importance of his lifelong work, his inspiration and his relationship with the town. dayoflearning.24

“So I feel very connected to Arlington,” he said. “The things you have done here historically, the things that people are doing now to welcome Afghans and others, is at the vanguard of the world’s moral conscience.”

Chanoff founded RefugePoint in 2005 to identify people for resettlement and help them find long-term resolutions. After traveling the world and meeting people in need, he found it his life’s mission.

“This is like what my life is calling me to do,” said Chanoff. “There’s a need for this in the world.”

RefugePoint has gained momentum in its nearly 20-year history. Sasha ChanoffSasha Chanoff, head of RefugePoint, was keynote speaker at the event.

“RefugePoint is an agency that has been in 64 countries. We’ve helped 140,000 people access resettlement to the U.S. and other countries around the world,” said Chanoff.

“The whole orientation around Refuge Point actually was to try to fix a broken system by doing the work directly ourselves, by training others and by trying to figure out how to influence and change how governments in the U.N. work so that it could be more effective.”

Arlingtonians have over several years come together to help refugees -- defined by the International Rescue Committee as persons seeking refuge in a new country from war, persecution or political turbulence -- and other migrants for many years. However, despite many inquiries, YourArlington has not yet had success in learning precisely how many refugees, or migrants, currently reside in Arlington.Rainbow, HRC tablesArlington’s Rainbow and Human Rights commissions had tables stationed outside the room where the event was held.

Diversity cited as desirable

One Arlington resident, Gabe Knoll, said he attended to learn more about how communities can interact with each other in ways that are different from the norm.

“I feel like one of the things our community lacks is diversity. So maybe getting people to think about it in a different way would help us with that,” said Knoll.

The event employed interactive elements to encourage the audience to think about how the community approaches refugees. Following the keynote address, the event split into two breakout sessions; attendees could decide which they wanted to participate in.

The first, led by Staci Rosenthal of the Boston-based nonprofit organization Facing History and Ourselves discussed how to talk about religion in today’s political climate and how to address people with disparate views.

The second went into detail on how residents could contribute to Arlington’s success with refugees, led by Chanoff with from ArCS Cluster founder Eric Segal and Elizabeth Davis-Edwards, founder of WelcomeNST, of Marlborough, both organizations committed to supporting refugees and asylum seekers.

Immigration called essential

“Immigration is an essential, essential part of the American process,” said Segal, of Arlington, who founded ArCS Cluster in 2016, noting that it has been more than 50 years since the last time Americans had enough babies to replace the population.

“If you’ve ever had a chance to spend time with folks that have had that kind of story of survival and resilience, you know that it changes you,” said Davis-Edwards.

She shared how the Afghan refugees she has met have changed her and her family, leading her to start WelcomeNST, creating neighborhood support teams that welcome refugees and migrants, supporting them in their transition.dayoflearning.24Molly Blaauw Gillis spoke at Arlington High School during the 'Day of Learning' event held Feb. 10.

“It took off because there was such an incredible, massive amount of unleveraged goodwill sitting in our communities,” said Davis-Edwards, who quit her job as a marketing executive to instead spearhead this movement.

The organizations mentioned above support refugees from Uganda, Ghana, Liberia, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jamaica, Chile, Guatemala and Honduras, among other countries.

Following conversation within the breakout groups, attendees enjoyed a closing inspiration by the Rev. Leah Lyman Waldron of Park Avenue Congregational Church, Lisa Doob, cantor of Temple Isaiah in Lexington and Imam Kandeel Javid, Boston-based co-chair of Muslims for Progressive Values.

The three, each of a different faith, seemed to share a common stance toward community togetherness and helping people in need. Doob led the room in a sing-along, which was followed by a reception with refreshments sponsored by Leader Bank starting at about 1:45 p.m.

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This text and photographs by YourArlington freelance reporter Jessie Castellano was published Monday, Feb. 12, 2024.