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Wausau welcomes first Afghan refugees to arrive in the city

Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg welcomes refugees
Katie Rosenberg
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Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg welcomes Afghan refugees

Central Wisconsin is starting to welcome in its newest residents, with Afghan refugees arriving in Wausau through resettlement.

"I mean, I feel this is a really historic moment for Wausau," said Adam VanNoord, the Ethiopian Community Development Council's multicultural community center director. ECDC works in conjunction with New Beginnings as part of the process.

The refugees are coming into town with snow on the grass and slush in the streets, things we might take for granted in Wisconsin. Now, those families will get that experience.

"The families that we received here in Wausau were part of that initial evacuation from the end of the summer and so they've been in limbo with a lot of uncertainty," VanNoord said, adding they had been living in military bases for months.

Those first refugees arrived at Central Wisconsin Airport Wednesday, and were greeted by many, including Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg.

"We have been finding wonderful folks from the mayor's office, the mayor herself, the police force, all the agencies, people have been just coming forward and saying, 'Let us know what more we can do and what we can learn,'" said Eric Yonke, the Co-Sponsorship Coordinator for ECDC.

Part of those efforts involved several places gathering clothes for the families, leading to an exchange with a child at the airport.

"It was kind of fun to watch one of the boys' eyes light up when we were holding a coat and he liked that coat. We had a couple of coats, we had him pick [option] 1 or 2 since we didn't know their sizes. He just comes up and says, 'Hey, I like that.' He just pointed at it and smiled and we're like, 'Great. Here,'" Yonke said.

They're now set up with fully furnished living spaces, despite short notice.

The families will be receiving direct support over the next several weeks, helping find employment and facilitating school opportunities for children.

More people are coming, too, who will need help getting acclimated to the cold and life in America.

"We're prepared to continue receiving families but we want to make sure as we do so that everyone who's here is partnered with competent supports and resources," VanNoord said.

They say they are still looking for people to become co-sponsors in helping the families out.

Wausau was allotted 75 people for resettlement, but VanNoord says they are prepared to help more.

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