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Refugees gather for Thanksgiving dinner in Binghamton

aca dinner web

Refugees, new to the Binghamton area, gathered at a Thanksgiving dinner held by the American Civic Association (ACA) last week. The ACA helps immigrants and refugees adjust to a whole new life in the Southern Tier.

Vladislav Hudz is 15 years old. He came to the United States from the Ternopil Oblast region of Ukraine, with his father, two weeks ago.

“I have like, only one hoodie, one sweatshirt. Because I didn’t even know that I [would go to the] USA just for two days, because I was in Poland waiting,” Hudz said.

Hudz goes to Johnson City High School now. His mother and two older brothers are still in Ukraine, but they’re supposed to join him in a month. He said he misses home, his friends, and his cat. But he said the kids at school have been friendly and welcoming.

Hudz and his dad were in a packed room of refugees and volunteers at the Thanksgiving dinner last week.

Volunteers served up heaping plates of turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. Local organizations had tables with information about job opportunities, local schools, health care and housing. Tables were covered with donated household items, clothing and food.

Joseph Seif is the manager of the ACA’s Refugee Support Services program. He came up with the idea for this event, when he noticed a large number of refugees, mainly from Ukraine and Afghanistan, relocating here at the same time.

Seif works with about 50 families right now, helping set up work permits and connecting them with resources.

Seif said part of the reason he does the work is because of his own experiences immigrating from Lebanon.

“We had to leave some of our affairs unfinished on the way here, but I cannot imagine what, I have not experienced what refugees are experiencing," Seif said. "And I definitely feel what they're feeling. It's definitely painful. It's very difficult. And I'm just trying to do everything we can possibly do.”

He said immigrating was hard and painful enough. But he said fleeing suddenly, the way refugees often must, makes the process even harder.

​​”Immigrants tend to prepare to leave, they will have their affairs in order and prepared before coming to the U.S.," Seif said. "As for refugees and asylees, they tend to leave everything behind. They leave the majority of their items: houses, cars, clothing, everything. They leave it behind, and they just come here."

That’s why, he said, this event is so important. A lot of refugees leave home so quickly that they not only need help building their lives in a new place, they also sometimes just need basic necessities. The goal is to help families rebuild and become self-sufficient in the community.