Reaching Immigrants & Refugees Through Faith Communities

(Pictured above, from left to right: Jamie Adasi, Director of Faith & Spiritual Inclusiveness; Michelle Pacheco-Espinoza, Immigrant and Refugee Navigator / Community Liaison)

Some of the most resilient people we know are found within our immigrant and refugee community. They have overcome incredible adversity to make their journey to the US, and they continue to face challenges still.

Every day many immigrants and refugees experience trauma, fear, depression and anxiety. The current political climate and changing immigration policies have only made it more difficult for this population to leave their homes and seek mental health services.

“This is a community where there are already so many barriers around mental health and asking for help, and where people may feel scared to come forward,” said Jamie Adasi, director of faith and spiritual inclusiveness. “It’s important that we reach out to say we hear you, we value your experiences and how can we be of service to you?”


“Faith communities was our answer”

Over the past decade, the Mental Health Center of Denver has become a leader in engaging faith communities to incorporate spirituality in mental health treatment, as well as help faith leaders refer people in need of services.

This uniquely positions us to take a similar approach in reaching the immigrant and refugee community.

The conversation began in early 2017 when the Rose Community Foundation asked Jamie about her work around faith and spirituality, asking if she saw an opportunity there to do something different.

“I said, absolutely, there’s a connection,” said Jamie, a first-generation Nigerian-American. “From my own experience, my mom’s side is Muslim, and my dad’s side is Christian. That heavily influenced where we landed in the US and the communities we chose for refuge. So, looking at the situation today, if people aren’t comfortable leaving their homes or coming in for services, then where might they be able to find support? Faith communities was our answer.”


Increasing capacity to serve immigrants and refugees

With Jamie at the helm, the Mental Health Center of Denver put together a project proposal. As a result, the Rose Community Foundation awarded a $30,000 grant to fund the “Capacity Building to Assist Faith Communities Working with Refugees and Immigrants” project.

Through this project, we will increase access to behavioral health services for immigrants and refugees through our faith community connections. This includes creating welcoming, culturally sensitive environments.

“I see us becoming a leader in this area,” said Jamie. “It will take a lot of education and a lot of training to build this project into a sustainable, long-term program. But it’s worth it.”

As part of this learning process, Michelle Pacheco-Espinoza joined the Diversity & Inclusiveness team in May as the Immigrant and Refugee Navigator / Community Liaison. This new temporary position, funded by the grant, will help lay the foundation for a full-time role, and more positions like it, down the road.


Working together to support immigrants and refugees

Right now, Michelle’s role involves connecting with other organizations, faith communities and agencies—asking what they’re currently doing with immigrants and refugees, presenting what the Mental Health Center of Denver is doing, and looking for ways to learn from each other and partner together. Michelle is also sitting down with Mental Health Center of Denver staff to learn what efforts have looked like so far with this community.

“I see so many people turned away because they don’t speak English or they don’t have the resources to be savvy and navigate the system,” said Michelle, a first-generation immigrant with more than 15 years experience in the nonprofit, private and education sectors. “As a CASA alumni and CASA advocate, I’ve experienced that firsthand, and I want to help educate others in properly serving the immigrant and refugee community.”

In the coming months, these conversations will inform the development of community-based training programs and resource guides to better equip both faith leaders and staff in working with the immigrant and refugee community.

“We want to welcome immigrants and refugees, clearly communicating that they can come in and be their whole full selves and not be afraid of any repercussions,” said Jamie.

The project timeline is March through October 2018, with hopes of an extension through further funding.

For further project details, see the proposal here.

For more on this story, see page 10 of the Rose Community Foundation 2017 Annual Report.