Even though many Americans move multiple times over the course of their lifetimes, nearly 72% of Americans live in or close to the place where they grew up, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Becky Foley is superintendent of schools in Regional School Unit 5 (Freeport-Durham-Pownal). She can be reached at [email protected]

For those of us who move farther away, we do so after much planning. We find a job, a place to live and begin the arduous task of boxing up more stuff than we really need and transferring it to a new home. Such was my journey from Texas to Maine in 1986. My husband and I were relocating to a state we loved that we felt would be an ideal place to raise our children. It was a planned, well-thought-out transition that we had been working towards for years.

However, every day all over the globe, other people make the difficult decision to leave their homes in search of a safer, better life. The transition can often be abrupt, with no idea of what truly awaits them. It is a journey of faith. Such is the story of asylum-seeking families from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola who recently arrived in Freeport and have temporarily relocated to the Casco Bay Inn.

These asylum-seekers often had long journeys before arriving in Maine. They left their homes and country due to persecution, human rights violations, or fled from armed conflicts or other humanitarian crises. These journeys begin with the hope for a better future. These recent asylum-seekers left their homes in the DRC or Angola, flew to Brazil and then made the long trip from Brazil to the Mexican border. Once there, it took many months or years to eventually make their way into the southern part of the United States. Some resettle in places like San Antonio and others continue their journey northward to places like Portland. Many arrive unannounced with few resources.

These families resettle in places like the Casco Bay Inn. They may remain there for up to a year before moving to the family shelter on Chestnut Street in Portland, where more permanent housing will be sought. I’m proud to live in a state that offers assistance to these families upon arrival. They must be here for approximately six months before federal assistance becomes available.

We are eager to welcome these families to Regional School Unit 5 and support them in building a new life. We hope they immediately feel a part of our RSU 5 family. Many of us take for granted our communities, made up of our colleagues, relatives and friends, that support us on a daily basis.

We know that the term asylum-seeker is just one small part of their identity. We are excited to learn more about and from them. We want to learn what occupations they have held, what foods they love and what other hobbies they may enjoy, whether it’s sports, the arts or both.

As we seek to make our schools more diverse and to promote equity and inclusion, we see this as an ideal opportunity to grow in many ways. We know that we will benefit from their energy and excitement as we begin the enrollment process for the 13 students who are already here and eager to begin school. Our community will be strengthened by these new families. Let’s not forget that some of the most inspiring and influential people in the United States were once refugees and asylum-seekers. They were allowed to rebuild their lives, and because of that, our country and communities were forever changed for the better.

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