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7/13/2017 8:45:00 AM
USCRI VOLUNTEER
Saratoga woman aids refugees one-on-one
BY AMY LUKE
STAFF WRITER

June 20 was World Refugee Day. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees recently reported that, for every minute of every day, 20 people in the world become displaced, earning the status of "refugee."

Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, D.C., is among many bishops who have called for solidarity with refugees. Kathleen Heidsieck of Saratoga Springs heard a similar call to action in fall 2015.

While attending a Mass in France, her husband's home country, Mrs. Heidsieck listened to the pastor read aloud a letter from Pope Francis to all parishes in Europe, proposing that action be taken to help refugees around the world.

"It was like he was talking to me," she said. "I felt that I had to do something."

Mrs. Heidsieck, a retired social worker, attends both St. Clement's and St. Peter's parishes in Saratoga. She teaches faith formation, works at a food pantry and volunteers at the Cloisters Museum in Manhattan.

To get involved with the cause of refugees, she also began volunteering with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) in Albany.

Mrs. Heidsieck drives refugees to doctor's appointments, medical tests and the Social Security Office. She said her role allows her one-on-one contact with families and individuals. Though there is often a language barrier, she is usually able to learn a few things about the refugee families.

Mrs. Heidsieck remarked on the refugees' gratitude for her help, and on how excited the children are to be going to school.

Volunteering is a way to live out her faith. "Prayer is important; liturgy is important; but, to me, this is what I'm supposed to be doing," she told The Evangelist, citing a quote posted years ago in her Catholic elementary school that read, "From those to whom much is given, much is required."

"To me, that's what your faith is about," Mrs. Heidsieck said. "It's about giving and helping other people. We have to treat each other that way. God is in each of us."

Mrs. Heidsieck also places items in the bulletins for St. Clement's and St. Peter's each month with information and quotes from Pope Francis and other clergy, addressing the global refugee problem. Her aim is to "tweak a lot of the negative press" about refugees. She hopes parishioners will call her to ask what they can do to help.

She has only received about 10 phone calls in the past year from curious parishioners, but she felt more encouraged about how local people are addressing the refugee crisis after attending a few meetings of the Refugee Roundtable. The roundtable's website (http://capitalregionrefugees.

weebly.com) states that it is "a network of volunteers that provides support and assistance to the refugees that have resettled in the Capital Region."

"If people knew how many [agencies and churches] are helping these people, I think it would change people's minds," Mrs. Heidsieck observed.

The volunteer is inspired by the refugees she serves, and by her peers at USCRI. She recalled picking up a father and son, who were arriving from an African country, at the Albany International Airport: The family has three young children, and the father said he'd met his wife in the refugee camp where they were placed.

The youngest children are about six and eight years old. Think about what that means, said Mrs. Heidsieck: "How long had they been in the camp? And that's not unusual.

"How can we turn our backs on these people?"

(USCRI holds an informational meeting each month for those interested in volunteering. In addition to driving refugees, volunteers can working at the reception desk, teach English as a Second Language, shop for families and help them set up apartments or serve as mentors. Contact 518-459-1790 or info@uscri-albany.org.)





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