We are many parts

Published by: Eastern Oklahoma Magazine
Written by: Rachel Davis, Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma


As 800 Afghan refugees are being welcomed to Tulsa, Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma has begun the largest resettlement project in its history and has turned to the entire community to help make it happen. The generosity of the individuals, organizations, foundations and other faith communities is seen in full force the second the refugees land in Tulsa. Volunteers and employees from diverse backgrounds have answered the call to aid in a special way. These are just a few of the key players who are going above and beyond to answer the call to be Christ’s merciful love to those who suffer.


Emily Kamp — Cultural Orientation

Church of Saint Mary parishioner Emily Kamp has been volunteering with Catholic Charities for more than six years, specializing in cultural orientation classes for numerous groups of people. Emily currently volunteers full time and says it's all thanks to the Holy Spirit’s timing and will that she can manage this piece of the project. Refugee resettlement includes many different services including food, shelter, case management, transportation and cultural orientation classes. “I think that this project feels a lot like disaster relief or crisis management in that the need is enormous and changing every single week. We have a large number of really engaged people.”Emily says that thanks to the large community effort, she has been able to assemble a team of volunteer teachers, interpreters, child care providers and volunteer hospitality. Even though she teaches her students to understand American culture, Emily wants to make sure her students feel comfortable and welcome bringing their culture to the classroom, “To me, the cultural needs of my students are important because students learn best when barriers are taken down, so I want our classroom to be a culturally safe place for our students so that they can learn to the best of whatever their ability is at this time.”



Barry Corum — Food Pantry

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux parishioner Barry Corum, a retired pipeline worker, has been volunteering with Catholic Charities since 2016. He has found himself in many different roles during that time, including kitchen ministry, casework and now working in the warehouse. Barry started as a volunteer case manager, but when the pandemic hit he transitioned to the food pantry. He says his favorite part is being able to connect with people.“I enjoy the interaction with the clients and hearing their stories.”When Catholic Charities first started working on the Afghan resettlement project, Barry took charge of making sure that families who moved into permanent housing had food to eat upon arrival for at least two weeks. He has researched on his own to find foods that would be most culturally appropriate and has worked with Food on the Move and the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma to acquire the groceries. He says that doing this work is natural, saying “It’s like being called into service rather than just looking for an activity ... if Jesus popped in here right now he would say yes to all of this that we are doing.




”Tom Byers — Donor Liaison

Church of the Madalene Parishio-ner Tom Byers is a fairly new volunteer at Catholic Charities. After retiring, he decided to start prioritizing volunteering and things he was passionate about. Catholic Chari-ties fit the bill for both passion and volunteer opportunities. Not long after beginning volunteering, he was asked to take on the role of Donor Liaison for the Afghan resettlement project. Tom assumed responsibility for communicating with people in the community who were interested in donating to the resettlement project. He communicates with parishes, foundations and individuals every day and says, “It’s been sort of overwhelming, the amount of offers to donate that we've received.”Although Tom works almost exclusively with donors, he’s made sure to take the time to meet the Afghan people as well. He recalls a story that really made him realize it was worth all the effort. “There was a single gentleman who I met when he came off the plane. We shook hands, I greeted him and went to the hotel. They had a basket of toiletries for him, and they asked me to give it to him. I don't know that he spoke a whole lot of English, but I handed it to him and he looked at me and shook my hand and said, ‘thank you, brother.’ That was pretty powerful.”Tom was recently hired by Catholic Charities to help manage the overall project.




Mark Marston — Donation Transportation

Church of Saint Mary parishioner Mark Marston began volunteering regularly at the end of the summer 2021, working mostly at the warehouse and food pantry. He fell into this position very naturally while he was there, taking on more and more responsibilities as the Afghan project picked up speed and the need intensified. When a large donation is made and requires a pickup, Mark and his team travel to the location to retrieve the donation. Some things are as simple as a mattress and some sheets, while other pick-ups involve multiple sofas and other furniture. He says every day looks different. Mark says getting up in the morning to drive long distances can be a challenge, but being able to take the time makes the work a satisfying thing to do. When asked what his favorite part of the job is, Mark says, “Meeting the people is the best part. There are all kinds of people out there, and they’re all friendly to everyone. You meet old people, young people — there all kinds of people out there who want to help.”




Don and Cheryl Schendt — Apartment Set Up

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux Parishioners Don and Cheryl Schendt have been working hard setting up apartments all over the city for Afghan refugees. They’ve already overseen the setup for 15 apartments and anticipate many more in the near future. Don has been volunteering his time with Catholic Charities’ finance department for the past 13 years, while his wife spent time working in the former clothing center. Both became involved in Refugee Resettlement when the Burmese refugees came to Tulsa. They joke that the work can be hard on the body, and sometimes struggle to get volunteers to help move furniture. Despite the physical taxation of the job, Don and Cheryl are joyful and passionate about the work they are doing. Cheryl says, “Welcoming immigrants is really exciting. We are a diverse community, and having the Afghan population here will be a blessing, really. It will add to the diversity of the city.”They credit the community and all the individual pieces of the puzzle for making everything go smoothly from start to finish. They see the work is all worth it when they meet the people who can call the newly set up apartment a home.


Sister Lucy Marie Fitzmorris — Inventory Control

Sister Lucy Marie Fitzmorris began volunteering by sorting clothes for Catholic Charities when she was early in her formation. When she began looking for a job this year, she immediately thought of Catholic Charities and reached out to see what job might be a fit. Luckily, Catholic Charities was in desperate need of someone with just her skills. She was originally hired to manage the food inventory but quickly found herself surrounded by new obligations as she became the Inventory Control Manager for refugee resettlement, tracking household item donations both pledged and received. Sister Lucy says it can become easy to get lost in the data. “One thing that's been kind of hard for my position is that I don't get to see our new Afghan neighbors very often, so sometimes I can get bogged down in the details,” she said. Her religious community has begun to deliver food to the refugees every week, which she says reminds her of what it’s all about.“A big part of the Benedictine way is hospitality. That's one of the things we're kind of known for. So this has been a very concrete ministry to be able to express that hospitality to the stranger. Saint Benedict tells us that we're supposed to welcome every guest that shows up at our door as Christ, and so for me, this is a very concrete way of being able to do that. They may not be arriving at the monastery door, but they're arriving at our door here in Tulsa. For me, it's just this very natural extension of my religious vocation as a sister.”


The Afghan Refugee Resettlement effort is still far from complete, but the overwhelming response from the community gives Catholic Charities reassurance that no matter what challenges arise, Tulsa will be there. We are many parts, but all one body in Jesus Christ, as illustrated beautifully by the generosity and love poured out by people all across the state and beyond.