CAROL STREAM, IL (February 16, 2015) — Regardless of where in the world they are coming from, perhaps the biggest challenge facing senior adult refugees is the isolation, says Tim Kustusch, partnership manager for World Relief DuPage/Aurora.
“Most seniors cannot drive, and while their children are off working and grandchildren are at school, they are stuck at home, sometimes unable to even converse with neighbors because of language barriers,” Kustusch says.
“Younger refugees are more adept at learning a new language because they are immersed in the culture via work, school, and other social opportunities not readily available to older adults,” Kustusch explains. “The isolation worsens as younger family members acclimate more quickly to the culture and begin spending less time at home.”
But there also is another adjustment. “Coming from communities where with a person’s age comes a level of reverence, senior refugees can feel a sense of loss because American culture doesn’t always correlate age with status,” Kustusch says.
Churches and groups can help the seniors adjust. That’s what happened when Windsor Park, a Covenant Retirement Community in suburban Chicago, hosted a lunch and music celebration during the last holiday season.
“The refugees were so excited to get dressed up and get out in the community for a new experience,” says Kustusch. “The visit to Windsor Park provided an opportunity for them to go out, enjoy themselves, and connect with their peers.”
Isolation began to yield to connection. Refugees were able to begin relationships with residents of the retirement community but also with couples and individuals from their own countries whom they had never met before, Kustusch says.
“It is impossible to fully put into words the true impact of this gathering and the friendship by Windsor Park residents for seniors who were forced to flee their homelands and start their lives over in a new country,” Kustusch says.
World Relief workers regularly present at Windsor Park as part of that community’s Lifelong Learning programming, during which they share expertise on immigration reform and the Christian response to war and poverty, as well as other issues.
Kustusch says churches and other groups interested in helping refugees transition to life in the U.S. should contact him.