Kelsey Bundra 

There is a large population of refugees in Lancaster County. Church World Service settles a group of refugees every year.

Church World Service is a cooperative that provides refugee assistance around the world. There is a branch in Lancaster city. Church World Service is a member of the Lancaster County Refugee Coalition.

Refugees were at a training course hosted by Church World Services in Tanzania. Photo courtesy of Church World Services.
Refugees were at a training course hosted by Church World Services in Tanzania. Photo courtesy of Church World Services.

Every year Church World Service settles 300 to 325 refugees in Lancaster, according to Stephanie Gromek, the Community Resource Coordinator at Church World Service. Last year 333 refugees were settled by Church World Service. Church world Service also has a Cuban/ Haitian entry program that assists 100 to 150 refugees per year. Refugee Services provided by Lutheran Children and Family Service also settles around 150 refugees a year.

According to, 119 refugees arrived in Lancaster this September. Some may wonder if this number has anything to do with the Syrian refugee crisis. Gromek explains that Church World Service will not see these refugees until two years or so due to the time-consuming process of travel and resettlement. Church World Service is currently assisting three Syrian families.

Recently, the refugee crisis is getting media attention. “[The refugee crisis] has been going on for several years,” Gromek said. The Syrian refugee crisis is largest refugee crisis since World War II. It is a humanitarian concern that is close to home.

The Church World Service office in Lancaster has an immigration legal services, resettlement and work programs. The refugee resettlement process typically takes 1,000 days. During this time, Church World Service partners with landlords to set up living arrangements for the refugees. Apartments are furnished and fully prepared to be inhabited by refugees. Also, they provide food and toiletries for the refugees. Some of this is done by donations.

From there, Church World Service helps their clients apply for social security and health insurance, receive all the proper vaccinations, medical insurance, get enrolled into school, learn English and how to navigate around the city. Some of the refugees have never even seen a doctor before they came to the US.

These services are provided to the refugees for the first three months of their settlement.  The services can be extended up to five years. “Clients are pretty self-sufficient around 90 days,” Gromek said.

After refugees have a basic understanding of life in the US, they are referred to the employment program. Employees working in the employment program assess refugee’s skills back in their home countries.  Then they try to match their skills and education levels with the equivalent in the US. Church World Service is recognized for employment assistance by the state.

Refugee resettlement is a community-wide effort. Local factory and farm owners employ the refugees.  “We help them get off the ground,” Gromek said.

After one year refugees can apply for a green card. Church World Service helps them apply. If they have family, they can apply for family reunification. After five years, refugees can apply for citizenship. Church World Service can help with all of this.

Church World Service also helps asylum seekers that came to the US on a travel or worker visa. Asylum is is provided to people when it is no longer safe for them to go to their home country. Church World Service provides legal assistance and consulting. The team recently won a pro bono case for a Palestinian woman seeking asylum.

Church World Service can provide service up to 5 years depending on what the refugees qualify for. “If we don’t hear from them or see them, that’s good because they don’t need us anymore,” Gromek said.

Church World Service has an agreement with the federal government to resettle refugees. They receive federal and state grants to do so.

The health program is funded by additional donations. Donations also provide assistance with heating bills for the client’s apartments in the winter. African and Cuban refugees are not used to the cold climate of Lancaster in the wintertime. The often make the mistake of cranking up the heating and getting hit with a high electric bill. Donations help cover this deficit.

Donations from the community help with funeral costs if a client passes away.

The staff at Church World Service is made up of full-time and part-time employees, interns and volunteers. They have nearly 300 volunteers and about 10 to 15 interns every semester. The staff is composed of 23 full-time and part-time employees.

Church World Service is part of the Lancaster County Refugee Coalition. The Lancaster County Refugee Coalition includes 40 agencies that assist refugees.  

Church World Service is a global organization with a branch in Lancaster. There are nine voluntary resettlement sites in the US. VOLAGS, or Voluntary Agencies, are private agencies that have agreements with the State Department to settle refugees. Overall, there are 300 resettlement sites in the US.  

The Extraordinary Give is a day encouraging online giving to the community of Lancaster. This year, the Extraordinary Give is Nov. 20. The goal is to raise 25,000 in one day. Church World Service is a part of the Extraordinary Give. The Extraordinary Give Live Finale Event is held at the Lancaster Marriott and Lancaster County Convention Center.

Non-profit organization of Lancaster will be out for this live event. There will be live music, break dancers and henna. Church World Service will be launching their mobile photo gallery at this time. The project will feature people holding one word of the human rights declaration until it is spelled out.