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Western New York gets ready to welcome 33 refugees

Nine families will arrive Wednesday from Congo and Syria.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The International Institute is getting ready to welcome 33 refugees to Western New York on Wednesday. Before they get here, volunteers have a lot of work to do to make these families feel at home.

Nine families are arriving this week, and two of them will be neighbors in the double 2 On Your Side visited Monday in Buffalo.

"It's an apartment, but it's so much more than an apartment. It's a welcome and a new neighbor embrace," said Jennifer Rizzo-Choi, Executive Director of the International Institute.

Thrity-three refugees, or 10% of the International Institute's annual resettlement number, will fly to Buffalo on Wednesday. The International Institute was able to find apartments for all nine families.

One family is from Syria and eight are from The Democratic Republic of Congo.

"It just so happened that there were huge bottlenecks in the processing chain that went to the Sub-Saharan African processing center for a refugee service center, and so we finally had some travel clearances come through and we got a notification about two weeks ago that we had so many people coming in that were Congolese refugees," said Jennifer Rizzo-Choi.

Two of the families will live in the double where volunteers are busy cleaning and setting up furniture.

"Not everybody lived in an environment like this, so when they arrive, their case manager will walk them through the home, show them how to use a stove and a toilet, how to cook," said Jennifer Rizzo-Choi.

The International Institute could use more donations of used household items like dishes, rice cookers, and pots and pans. They do not accept clothes or linens.

Robert Schulman started volunteering about eight months ago and finds it very fulfilling.

"We were in the office helping with supplies and getting families ready by pulling enough for each family, and then we went out to the homes and installed whatever they needed and set them up," said Robert Schulman.

They are still looking for a kitchen table and some baby items. They can also use cash donations.

"They've come from a place where they weren't accepted, where they were being persecuted for who they are, something that they can not change about themselves, and now that they're here in Buffalo, we want them here. We're going to welcome them. We're going to find them a job. We're going to set up their life here, and they're going to connect with the community and become a part of our community," said Jennifer Rizzo-Choi.

The International Institute still needs volunteers this week to set up apartments and to help once the families get here. They are looking for mentors to show the families how to do everything from taking the bus to going grocery shopping. If you would like to volunteer, you can email volunteers@iibuff.org.

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