Feature

When Charity Becomes Life Changing

July 27, 2022
Jami McKeon and Jessica Lawrence

In 2016, Xerxes Mangapit, director of service delivery and program management at Morgan Lewis, donated money to help two refugee families through a simple website. Fast forward five years, and Xerxes helped morph that website into a comprehensive volunteer hub to aid refugees with many aspects of their resettlement, from places to stay to guidance on citizenship hurdles. An immigrant himself, Xerxes sees this endeavor as a way to give back and bring his community together.

How did you come up with the idea to launch this site?

Members of local religious congregations got together in 2016 to help resettle two Syrian refugee families into the community and we created a simple website to collect donations. But during the Afghanistan crisis in 2021, we wanted to extend our reach and gather more volunteers and donors as we prepared to welcome new refugees. With my IT background, I worked with our members to build an easy-to-use website for the volunteers, refugees, and those of us who maintain it. Bucks County Interfaith Coalition for Refugee Resettlement (BCICRR.org) website's purpose is to convey our volunteer group’s mission, highlight significant milestones of refugee families we help resettle, and provide the ability for donations and volunteer sign-ups. We recently used the website to inform volunteers and supporters of a celebration to honor our refugee families' achievements, which gathered more than 100 people in our small community.

The site’s primary audiences are our past, present, and future volunteers and supporters. Our readers appreciate the updates we provide about what’s going on with our refugee families, from passing a driver’s license exam to obtaining US citizenship. Through our website, we see a lot of inquiries about how members of our local community can get involved, and we are now looking at how to expand our efforts to Ukrainian refugees.

Who has this website helped?

As an example, Nooranshah, the father of an Afghan family of five, shared a bit of his family’s journey from Kabul to Bucks County, Pennsylvania with our volunteers. After leaving Kabul with only the clothes on his back and essential papers, his family shuttled around various refugee camps in Germany and in the United States before settling in Bucks County through the support of our volunteers.

We hope to understand what our refugees have gone through. With as little or as much information as they provide, their experience of losing their identity and home is evident. And no one should have to experience that. We encourage communities to make a difference in their own little way. It doesn’t need to be big. We may not be able to change the world with what we are doing, but we hope to change the refugees’ perspective of the world we live in.

Afghan Family
Xerxes’ wife and children met with one of the Afghan families they helped resettle at an area park.

Why were you called to help this organization?

Helping refugees resettle is particularly close to my heart. Twelve years ago, my then-pregnant wife, two-year-old son, and I migrated to the United States from Southeast Asia. It was not a walk in the park. Navigating an entirely different health/medical system, purchasing a vehicle, and renting an apartment without a credit history were some of the challenges we faced. But we were always surrounded by people in the community who extended help. And with this example in mind, my wife and I wanted to give back.

Are there ways others can help this effort?

There are many! On a local level, our group needs help from volunteers to drive refugees to and from their medical checkups, summer camps, groceries, etc. For those without a local refugee community, they can still get involved by providing legal assistance or language tutorials online. Most importantly, we won't be able to provide help to our refugees financially without the generosity of our donors. For example, until the adult refugee finds a job, BCICRR pays for the apartment rent and utility bills. The group's main objective is to get the refugees to resettle and be self-sufficient. But we are aware that it takes time and appreciate any financial support.

How did Morgan Lewis support you in this effort?

Morgan Lewis has a fantastic annual pro-bono event called Community Impact Week and our 2022 program focused on displaced global refugees, which brought more attention to volunteer groups like ours. But under the direction of our Firm Chair Jami McKeon, Morgan Lewis took BCICRR under its wing. Our head of administration in Philadelphia, Nina Shallcross, set up a donation program via payroll deduction for those who wanted to donate out of our Philadelphia, Princeton, and Wilmington offices. Along with an incredibly generous check from the firm, we also received a list of new volunteers and opportunities like this to share our story. We are forever grateful for the generosity of our Morgan Lewis family.