- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) - A federal agency is ending services to Burmese refugees in Waterloo, leaving volunteers scrambling to figure out how they can continue to help the immigrants.

The local office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, which opened in December 2012, will close on Feb. 28 when federal funding runs out, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported (https://bit.ly/1n1t9DG ). It has been helping Burmese refugees, especially those in their few first years in the country, learn English and understand what community services are available. That includes preparing for citizenship.

The office always intended to be a temporary presence in Waterloo, where about 1,200 Burmese refugees currently reside. To date, it has helped about 200 refugees.

Ann Grove, lead case worker, said she is trying to organize volunteers and resources to help fill in the looming gaps.

“The federal government expects everything to be taken over by volunteers,” she said. “That’s a little bit unrealistic. If I had my druthers, there would be a continuation of what we’ve done.”

Following a recent community meeting at a local church, several organizations are stepping up. The groups plan to focus on case work, community education, employment and language.

Grove said finding ways to fund these efforts among the groups may be the biggest hurdle. It will take about $100,000 a year to replicate most services provided by the federal office, she said.

“I’ve been doing the numbers for the last five months, up, down and sideways,” Grove said. “The need is really that high. If we’re looking at increasing the amount of interpretation to our desired level, we’re probably talking closer to $140,000.”

Grove and others are hopeful the groups can strategize ways to apply for funds independently.

Grove said she wants to get more people involved in the effort.

“I know there are many more people in this community who would find it very satisfying to help people who want to help themselves at a point of need in their lives,” she said. “They can’t help if they don’t know about it.”

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Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, https://www.wcfcourier.com

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