Shelton church to help refugees settle in lower Naugatuck Valley

From left, Gordon Harris, Linda Harris, Rev. Lucille Fritz and Robert Margolies, members of the Valley Refugee Resettlement Project, pose in front of Huntington Congregational Church, in Shelton, Conn. May 13, 2022.

From left, Gordon Harris, Linda Harris, Rev. Lucille Fritz and Robert Margolies, members of the Valley Refugee Resettlement Project, pose in front of Huntington Congregational Church, in Shelton, Conn. May 13, 2022.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — Refugees from around the world stream into the United States every day — but awareness has increased in recent months with the Afghanistan withdrawal and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

People are desperate to leave war-torn areas and start a new life in America, and one Shelton-based church is stepping up to help — one family at a time.

Huntington Congregational Church, across from the Huntington Green, has created the Valley Refugee Resettlement Project and plans to work with IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services) to help move a refugee family into the lower Naugatuck Valley.

“We all agreed that helping refugees at this time was something we felt compelled to do,” said Robert Margolies, Shelton resident and project co-chair. “There are 25 million or more refugees in the world today and only a small percentage find safe placements in a welcoming country.”

The Valley Refugee Resettlement project is calling on volunteers to aid in this process and hopes to raise some $15,000. The Rev. Lucille Fritz, pastor at HCC since 2009, said the project would need some 30 volunteers, and the church will be hosting a public informational meeting Sunday at 1 p.m.

IRIS representatives will be giving the presentation on the process and what is required. IRIS assists vetted refugees and immigrants to establish new lives, regain hope, and contribute to the vitality of Connecticut’s communities, Fritz added.

“We hope and believe that this process will foster new collaborations and friendships throughout our community,” said Margolies, a licensed clinical and school psychologist and Director of the Motivation Center — a group private practice serving children and families in Shelton and Derby.

“It should be fun and engaging for those who participate and a really worthwhile cause to helping families in great need,” he added.

Fritz said her desire to help IRIS started during the United States military withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.

Seeing so many desperate people fleeing, knowing they would seek to find a home in America, she brought the idea of a making a monetary donation to the church’s generosity committee.

That quickly turned into a call to help a family relocate to the Valley region. But with the limited size of the church’s congregation, Fritz said the generosity committee needed to widen its search for assistance in helping a refugee family’s dream become a reality.

“We agreed to explore how best to do that locally,” said Margolies, who took the initiative and spoke with IRIS executives to learn the process for aiding a refugee family.

“It is a fairly complex process to settle a refugee family and help them to learn to take care of themselves, work, live in and become safe and happy members of our community,” Margolies added.

Margolies said IRIS explained there is an extensive vetting and long waiting list of refugees from around the world. USRAP, he said, approves voluntary agencies who then work with local resettlement groups to guarantee refugees can resettle safely, in communities prepared with the necessary resources.

Margolies said he attended a mini-seminar with other local residents wanting to participate — and that is where he met Richard Knoll, a former director with TEAM, Inc.

“It was late last summer soon after the American departure from Afghanistan created such a huge refugee exodus, that I felt the need to act,” Knoll, Valley Refugee Resettlement Project co-chair, said.

Knoll said he had already contacted both refugee agencies — IRIS in New Haven and the CT Institute in Bridgeport — but both were overwhelmed at the time.

In October, Knoll said he spoke at length to an IRIS representative, who explained their model of co-sponsorship that required 25 to 30 people and $7,000 to $10,000 to be successful.

“I began to approach the local Rotary clubs, and nonprofits,” Knoll said. “Each had their own causes and agreed to help in the context of their work but were not able to add another project. By December, IRIS arranged Zoom meetings with several other interested parties in the Valley area, including HCC.”

Knoll said in February a consensus was reached to begin a Valley Project. Last month the HCC agreed to sponsor the project, after Fritz, Margolies and fellow church member Gordon Harris brought the proposal to their Council.

“Each of us has identified friends and colleagues who have expressed an interest in helping,” Knoll said. “Our job will be to organize them — and recruit another 20 — into six or seven committees with various responsibilities, including housing, transportation, education and basic needs.”

Tasks will include welcoming the family; finding an apartment and fitting it up; connecting the family with local resources (such as food banks and thrift shops); helping them to apply for local benefits; finding interpreters and educational programs; seeking employment; learning the local transit system and providing rides.

“The model is a co-sponsoring model, not an adoption model,” Knoll added. “Once IRIS has certified that we have sufficient trained volunteers and funds in place — to provide support for six months — we will be eligible for a placement.

“Employment, combined with public and refugee assistance, will be sufficient to make the family economically stable within a year,” he said. “The cultural assimilation will depend on the family's ethnic background and language skills.”

Margolies said if this project is a success, the group hopes to help relocate one refugee family per year.

"We’ll have to see how we do,” Margolies added.

For more information on IRIS, visit Those interested in volunteering or donating funds can call Richard Knoll, 203-887-3310, or Gordon Harris, 203-605-5233.