Following the fall of Kabul in August and the subsequent evacuation of Afghan allies, Houston was projected to receive approximately 6,000 evacuees by June of 2022. The resettlement agencies were struggling to keep up with the demand. Combined Arms SIVs & Allies Group was expected to play a much bigger role. These new challenges brought new opportunities, which required a new approach. The previously volunteer-led effort was formalized into a full-fledged Combined Arms program and I was hired to manage it, tasked with developing and executing a strategic plan to meet the new demands. Meanwhile, we continued advocating for the evacuation of our allies out of Afghanistan by joining Evacuate Our Allies, a large, national coalition advocating on behalf of our SIVs & Allies.
As the new SIVs & Allies Program manager, I started with a series of home visits to gather data and assess the needs of our newly-arrived Afghan allies. Through these visits I discovered that the SIVs & Allies Program needed to pivot from the role we’d played in the past to a more proactive approach. I started by working with our technology team to ensure SIVs could utilize the Combined Arms Portal in the same way the veterans and military family members can to access hundreds of social services and resources in just minutes.
I also started a three-phase resource mapping plan to identify and on-board all of the Combined Arms Member Organizations willing and able to support SIVs & Allies as part of their mission. The first phase of the plan was to review the list of current Member Organizations and to identify any overlapping programs and resources they offer that could benefit SIVs & Allies. During phase two, we launched a survey asking the remaining Member Organizations what resources they had available for SIVs & Allies. We asked them detailed questions as such as whether or not they would be willing to support SIVs spouses and/or their families. The last phase of this plan centered on identifying new organizations with which we could collaborate and partner. Our goal as to ensure that we had at least two partner organizations providing the same resources to our SIVs & Allies. Collaboration and partnership of this kind is very vital to our mission.
We collaborated with Wheelchairs for Warriors, a non-profit organization that designs and builds customized wheelchairs for veterans, to equip a disabled SIV in Houston with a state-of-the-art wheelchair. We launched a joint fundraising campaign to purchase the wheelchair and raised over $11,000, thanks largely to a generous donation from Impact A Hero, a Houston-based nonprofit and a huge supporter of the SIVs & Allies Program. Impact A Hero also provided a grant to fund the purchase and distribution of laptops computers for SIVs & Allies.
We identified food insecurity as an underlying issue amongst our Afghan allies so we partnered with the Houston Food Bank to organize and execute mobile food pantries for our Afghan neighbors. Between February and March 2022, we distributed food and pantry essentials to 3,100 people in several different communities across Houston.
Below please find a summary of Combined Arms’ SIVs & Allies Program 2022 YTD activities and accomplishments:
- Added 130 SIVs & Allies to the Combined Arms system, a 66% increase over 2020 and 2021 combined;
- Organized and executed four (4) emergency food distribution events, providing food to more than 3,100 individuals across Houston.
- Issued more than 90 laptops to 70 SIVs & Allies families across Texas;
- We co-organized the largest job fair to date for Afghan evacuees in Houston on April 10, 2022, which connected 500+ Afghan allies to over 22 employers;
- Provided essential household goods for more than 60 families;
- Provided Eid Care packages to over 30 families in collaboration with YMCA International on April 30, 2022. The packages consisted of essential household items, including food, toiletries, clothing, toys, books and other educational items for children;
- Organized an outdoor lakeside gathering on May 21, 2022 for over 45 Afghan SIVs and families, providing much-needed social connectivity and the opportunity to build community;
- Organized an English Language Corner event in partnership with The Kinkaid School on March 26, 2022. This event brought together over a dozen of students and 50 Afghans allies for conversation and resume writing support. The event was complemented by an Afghan lunch, allowing all the participants to try a variety of tasty Afghan foods.
- In total, over 130 volunteers contributed more than 900 hours of their time and energy to support our mission in Houston and Austin.
Combined Arms is committed to scaling our proven SIV & Allies programming to meet the immediate and emergent needs of our Afghan allies as they resettle in communities across Texas. In 2022 we experienced a 68.8% increase of SIVs & Allies support requests compared to 2020 and 2021 combined. We have hosted 4 emergency food drives serving more than 3100 SIVs in several different communities across Houston and provided 90 laptop computers to over 70 SIVs & Allies families. This is only a portion of the initiatives that we coordinated to fully support and uplift SIVs & Allies that relocate to our communities.
We are now scaling the model we've built and refined in Houston to other parts of Texas in order to meet the needs of the estimated 11,000 evacuees that have arrived in Texas since August 2021. We launched a volunteer SIV & Allies Group in Austin and will soon launch one in North Texas. We continue to contribute to the ongoing national resettlement dialogue through active participation with Evacuate Our Allies and Welcome.us. We urged congress to pass the bipartisan Afghan Adjustment Act that will further support those in need.
None of this would be possible without you - our community of volunteers, partners, donors, and champions. Demand for our programming remains high and we need your continued support to meet the immediate and emerging needs of our SIVs & Allies in the months ahead. Here’s a few ways to get involved:
Our volunteers are our most important assets. In 2022, more than 130 volunteers contributed more than 900 hours of their time and energy. However, we still need more volunteers in places like Austin and North Texas in order to deliver on our mission. You can help by giving your time, mentoring SIV & Allies and their families as they navigate the system, facilitating learning and practicing of English language, teaching American values and ideals to our new neighbors, and assisting them as they integrate into American society. The SIVs & Allies Program has several upcoming events in both Houston and Austin:
- August 27, 2022 - laptop drive in Houston and Austin
- September 24, 2022 - Quarterly SIVs & Allies social gathering in Houston - details to follow
- October (date: TBD) - Inaugural SIVs & Allies social gathering in Austin, TX
We can’t accomplish our mission without your support. Click here to help us further support SIVs & Allies in Texas and beyond by making a donation today.