Three St. Joseph’s College alumni — one of whom is a Sister of St. Joseph — are volunteering for two weeks in El Paso, Texas, at the Annunciation House, helping immigrants and refugees at the United States/Mexico border.
S. Karen Burke, C.S.J., Ed.D, arrived in El Paso with her niece Kaleigh Burke and nephew Andrew Samide on Tuesday, Jan. 22 — having driven in a Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph van all the way from Brentwood, New York. They will stay in the community at a nearby Annunciation House satellite location until Feb. 5.
“The flow of arriving refugees has increased to about 2,000 per week, and it’s anticipated that in the short term, this weekly average will increase,” said S. Karen, a 1981 SJC Brooklyn graduate who taught in the child study department from 1998–2004. “The refugees coming to Annunciation House are families and individuals that immigration authorities did not place in one of their long-term detention facilities. The vast majority of refugees released are parents with one or two children.”
The Annunciation House is a volunteer organization that has served refugees in need of short- and long-term housing since 1978. The group’s hospitality centers near the border are open to refugees coming to El Paso from such Central American countries as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as well as from Mexico and Brazil.
“The need for volunteers who are willing and able to help in one of the hospitality houses or centers is great,” said S. Karen, who works as the coordinator of land initiatives for the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood. “Support volunteers work alongside the house coordinators to provide presence, supervision and carry out a variety of tasks.”
It is good to know that we can help, but more important that these many families here in El Paso know that we want to help them, and that we too are just like them in many ways — we all want a safe place to live and thrive.” —Andrew Samide ’18
Offering a Helping Hand
The volunteers at Annunciation House are mainly involved with refugee intake, assisting with meals, providing clothing and supplies, and reuniting refugees with their family and friends in the United States. They assist in making travel plans, including arranging transportation to the bus station or airport. Volunteers also provide care packages to families traveling long distances by bus.
“I wanted to do something to help those who are trying to come to our country,” Samide said. “There is an urgent need for those of us who have more, who are privileged, to be a witness, a presence to others in need. Watching the news accounts of what is happening at the border, I felt compelled to act.”
Samide, who graduated from SJC Brooklyn in 2018 with a degree in political science and a minor in business, has been giving out supplies collected in New York to immigrant families. His cousin, Kaleigh Burke, graduated from SJC Long Island in 2018.
“It is good to know that we can help, but more important that these many families here in El Paso know that we want to help them, and that we too are just like them in many ways — we all want a safe place to live and thrive,” he added.