Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14).
I recently met a young man who will be in Houston for a year with AmeriCorp’s VISTA program. I was impressed with his story so I invited him to tell it via my blog. I am pleased to introduce you all to Kenneth Burchfiel. He’s available to speak to congregations in the Houston area so do invite him to your place of worship if you connect with his mission.
Like many people my age, it took me a little while to figure out what kind of career I wanted to pursue. I knew that I wanted to serve others and work in a helping profession, but I needed a couple of years after college to narrow down my options. Ultimately, I settled on social work, as social workers assist a variety of client groups in many different settings, such as schools, hospitals, and charitable organizations. I also chose to move to Texas, as it’s a growing state with a strong economy.
Before I start my Master of Science in Social Work at UT Austin, however, I realized I should move to Texas beforehand to gain some social service experience. That’s what led me to the AmeriCorps VISTA program, which is sometimes called the ‘domestic Peace Corps.’ VISTA folks spend a year fighting poverty in the local community, and receive a stipend that places them just above the poverty line. The idea is that you not only work to relieve poverty, but also experience what it’s like to live on a limited budget.
VISTA’s are assigned to a number of different agencies. I serve with Texas Impact, an interfaith advocacy organization based in Austin. Texas Impact assigned me to the Houston Interfaith Disaster Response Alliance (HIDRA), a group of religious organizations who will partner together in disaster situations. Although we often think of ‘disasters’ in terms of hurricanes or floods, the unaccompanied minors crisis has been one major humanitarian disaster in Texas. That is what my work will focus on.
In 2014, tens of thousands of children fled their home countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras in search of safety in the United States. These countries have suffered brutal gang violence. Minors who refuse to join gangs risk being killed. Other children left due to family abuse or neglect. When these unaccompanied minors arrive in the United States, they face a complex process to apply for legal status, and may have to do so without the help of a lawyer. Many of these children do indeed qualify for protected status, and have a chance to begin a new life in the US.
This year, I will have the opportunity to speak with faith communities in the Houston area about the unaccompanied minors crisis. I will explain why these children feel compelled to make the hazardous journey to the US, and how many faith communities in Texas have stepped up to help these children. I will also provide information about HIDRA’s Child Migrant Fund, which is a resource that supports the organizations who are assisting unaccompanied children in our region, such as Refugee Services of Texas and YMCA International Services.
I am grateful for this opportunity to partner with faith communities and raise awareness about the unaccompanied minors crisis. I would be delighted to come and speak at your church or organization. You may contact me at Kenneth.Burchfiel@texasimpact.org, or by phone at (713) 526-2585.