With close ties to Latin America, a sponsor is inspired to help a family find safety

Stories of Welcome

October 16, 2023


Welcome Connect offers family relief after years of hardship

It was a New York Times article in November 2022 that prompted Heather to learn more about private sponsorship of refugees to the United States.

The article detailed the increasingly devastating conditions in many parts of Central and South America, sharing the stories of families forced to flee their homes in search of safety.

Heather and her family have friends in Central and South America. She’s well traveled, fluently speaks Spanish, and is passionate about the issues impacting that area. The timing was right—Heather and her husband were searching for ways to give back. Plus, with most of their children now grown and out of the house, they had plenty of room in their “empty nest.”

Yelien, his wife Nederys, and their 4-year-old son from Cuba discovered Welcome Connect when researching legal and orderly pathways to the U.S.

Heather signed up on Welcome Connect, a platform where potential sponsors can match with newcomers and chat with them to learn more about their situation. Welcome Connect provides newcomers with a safe and secure way to connect with potential sponsors and puts them in control of the process. She quickly connected with six people and ultimately offered to sponsor Yelien, his wife Nederys, and their 4-year-old son from Cuba.

Yelien and Nederys learned about Welcome Connect when they started researching options for finding refuge in another country. It was important to them to travel through a legal and orderly pathway so that they didn’t place their child at risk with a dangerous border crossing. For this family, sponsorship offered relief from years of economic hardship in Cuba.

“In Cuba, the salaries are very low, so we had to live with my parents in order to be able to afford food to eat,” Nederys said. “The monthly government rations of beans, rice, and sugar are not enough to support our family.”

They registered on Welcome Connect in February 2023, and were thrilled to be offered sponsorship by Heather. “The best thing was knowing that our child would not have to pass through any traumatic experiences [because of migrating],” Yelien said.

Sponsorship provided a sense of safety, but the journey was not stress free. Yelien and Nederys feared that the government would retaliate if anyone discovered they were leaving. The family first flew from Cuba to Miami. They didn’t even tell their employers they were quitting until they landed at the airport in Miami and gained permission to enter the United States. From there, they continued to Raleigh, N.C.

Meeting in the airport, Heather welcomes Yelien and his family.
Yelien, Nederys, and their son enjoying time together at a playground in Raleigh, N.C.

The move also proved to be a significant culture shock. “It’s only a 50-minute plane ride [from Cuba to Miami], but when we landed, I realized we were in a whole different world,” Yelien said. “It’s a sensation I can’t describe. You don’t know anything, you don’t understand anything, and you start to miss your family. You’re trying to adapt to a new place.”

But Heather and her family helped to make the transition smoother for Yelien and Nederys. Heather helped them navigate the benefits application process, apply for social security cards, and search for work. She also taught Nederys how to ride a bike, which she was not allowed to do in Cuba.

The experience inspired Heather to do more. She reached out to a local Catholic church to learn about more ways she could be involved in refugee resettlement. She was referred to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and she worked to recruit 25 volunteers from Raleigh to form three sponsorship circles.

Heather encourages others to consider sponsorship through Welcome Connect. One of her friends, Donna, successfully sponsored two Ukrainian families—one through Welcome Connect—and the sponsorship circles continue to serve as a support system for the newcomers they welcomed as they find jobs, apply for benefits, and search for housing.

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