After 17 years in downtown Charlottesville, the International Rescue Committee has moved to a larger office, giving the organization much needed space to grow staff and programs, director Harriet Kuhr said from her new office, just after moving in.
The move to 375 Greenbrier Drive just off U.S. 29 comes as IRC is working to resettle hundreds of Afghan evacuees who arrived in Charlottesville this fall following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
Since Oct. 1, IRC has welcomed 280 new arrivals, essentially doing a year’s worth of work over a six-week period. The agency has nearly doubled its staff since and is planning to expand its case management, employment and health services.
“We’re adding staff as quickly as we can,” Kuhr said. “We also know there’s the immediate need when they first get here, but they’re going to be here in this community for years.”
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IRC, which started in 1998, has resettled nearly 5,000 people — about a third of whom were from Afghanistan.
Typically, bringing refugees to the United States is a long process, which gives agencies time to plan. With the Afghans, that didn’t happen.
“We’re used to those numbers but spread out over a whole year,” Kuhr said. “But then everybody comes at once and there’s staffing issues, but then there’s also the pressure on housing and everything.”
Many of the new arrivals are still living in hotels until housing can be found for them, though some church groups and other organizations have taken people in, Kuhr said. In addition to helping with housing, IRC helps families enroll in school, access healthcare services and provides job readiness training.
Housing is the biggest pain point currently, Kuhr said. Landlords or property managers interested in assisting this group should reach out to IRC.
“It’s going to take us a really long time to find housing for all the people here,” she said.
New Afghan refugees are expected to continue to move to the area through February.
As part of the move and because of the overwhelming response, IRC paused in-kind donations last month. Kuhr said gift cards to area stores, especially the local Afghan stores, the Grand and Medina markets, have been working great.
“Because we can just hand those gift cards off to people and they can go shopping and get what they want,” she said.
IRC signed a lease for the new office off Greenbrier Drive last spring but the decision to move was years in the making, Kuhr said. IRC has been in need of more space for its employees and to meet with the people it serves as well as more parking.
With the move, IRC went from about 5,500 square feet of space to 7500 square feet.
The Greenbrier space is not directly on a bus line, but Kuhr said she’s hoping to work with Charlottesville Area Transit to improve bus access to the office. Currently, the office is accessible via a Route 5 bus stop on the corner of Commonwealth and Greenbrier drives.
The new space will provide staff with a more professional setup, Kuhr said. They’ve also upgraded their technology in the move.
Kuhr said IRC staff also will be working in a more collaborative space, helping them to work together better.
They also have more meeting space as well as a larger classroom area that they can use to host community events, which they didn’t have in their old location.
This year, Kuhr said she’s excited to get settled into the new office and fill the open staff positions “to really get to a place where we’re providing high quality, comprehensive services to both our newer refugees who are coming in and the Afghans that are already here.”