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Kewanee volunteer group welcoming Afghan refugees to Illinois

Kewanee, Illinois as seen in 2009
billwhittaker / CC BY-SA 3.0
Kewanee, Illinois as seen in 2009

Refugees fleeing from war-torn Afghanistan may soon resettle in Kewanee, Illinois.

The newly-formed Kewanee Welcomes nonprofit volunteer group plans to provide three Afghan refugee families with housing, employment help, and other basic resources upon their arrival to the United States.

Organizer Bobi Throneburg said the group has already secured apartments for the families in Kewanee, about 50 miles northwest of Peoria.

"We're getting those apartments all set up, and just collecting items, and just getting things like food," she said. "And then all this week, it's happening very quickly."

Kewanee Welcomes is working with the Samaritan's Purse Afghan resettlement program and partnering with a number of Kewanee-area churches to bring the families to the community.

It's work that resonates with Throneburg personally. She's served in mission groups in Yemen, Haiti, and west Africa.

"I've learned a lot from those cultures. The people there have so much to give and have beautiful...like every culture has something beautiful that you can learn from it. And especially when it's really different than yours, you really lean into that and learn from that," she said. "And I just always kind of wanted Kewanee just to grow in diversity because of that."

Throneburg said the federal government is providing $2,275 for each Afghan refugee. That money will be used to help the refugees get their lives started in America.

"They'll be able to work. They'll have employee authorization card numbers that they're applying for on the bases currently, and then the first couple of weeks who want to get their kids enrolled in school, and help them find jobs, and get them enrolled in ESL (English as a second language) classes," Throneburg said.

She said Kewanee Welcomes plans to walk with the refugees through the long haul as they acclimatize to a new culture, and work through the trauma of fleeing the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

"It's not just going to take a few months, but it's going to take a while to really help them integrate into our community," Throneburg said. "But I think, through that process, everyone's getting grow together stronger in that. So I'm excited about that."

Throneburg said she expects the refugees will arrive by the end of the month. She said the community has been largely receptive to their arrival.

"I think a lot of it is just we're all learning about this. And as we learn and educate ourselves more, we find some really great answers and some really great data that refugees really do end up becoming contributors of society and very helpful," she said. "You know, like I said, we can learn from them in this experience, too."

Click here to learn more about Kewanee Welcomes, and to find a list of items the group is collecting for the refugees prior to their arrival.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.