Community service

Ipswich Refugee Program receives 2022 Community Service Award

From left to right: Lynn Lenhart, Meredith Joss and Patsy Velcour

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“It takes a village to raise a child.” This is how the proverb is usually pronounced, but Lynn Lenhart, co-founder of the Ipswich Refugee Program (IRP), told the Ipswich Democratic Town Committee she would like to change it.

“I would change the wording to ‘it takes a town like Ipswich to welcome, resettle and support families and individuals from other countries,'” Lenhart said.

On Saturday, the committee presented the IRP with the 2022 Community Service Award for its commitment to helping refugees resettle in the community of Ipswich.

Founded in 2017, IRP works with families from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Honduras, Congo and seeks to help families from Ukraine. The nonprofit organization provides refugees with financial support and assistance with transportation, employment, ESL classes, and adjusting to American culture and customs.

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According to Democratic Committee Chair Wendy Dabcovich, the IRP’s mission aligns with the Democratic Party’s 2021 platform to welcome all refugees.

“Massachusetts should welcome all immigrants and refugees who are an integral part of our community, our social fabric and our economy,” Dabcovich said.

Welcoming immigrants is also good for the city, Lenhart said.

“We also want diversity here in Ipswich because it enriches the whole community,” she said.

Accepting the award, Lenhart told the story of an Iraqi family who came to Ipswich in 2017. When they arrived, the family didn’t even know where they were. Now, thanks to IRP, they have two cars, stable jobs and have moved to Ipswich.

“Five years later, they know and love this city,” Lenhart said. “What is Ipswich?” It is their house.

Ipswich is well equipped to help refugees as it is a small town, according to Lenhart.

“I believe a smaller community can respond better to this influx because everyone is connected in some way,” she said. “It really was a whole community effort.”

Lenhart said she was touched that people recognized the work IRP does in the community.

“To be able to see that you’ve made a difference is… very rewarding,” Lenhart said.