Family TIES Connects with Springfield Somali Community

Mary Castro Summers, Family TIES of Massachusetts (FCSN)

Zahra Omer and Family TIES of Massachusetts Project Director Mary SummersOur state is home to many immigrant communities with a rich blend of cultural experiences. Springfield is one of several Massachusetts cities home to refugees from Somalia, a small East African nation. In 2009, the Care Coordination Unit of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) invited Family TIES of Massachusetts (FTIES) to meet with a group of 12 newly-arrived Somali families including individuals with special needs. This began a cultural exchange that continues today.

FTIES staff came to recognize the great courage and determination among members of the Springfield-based East Africa Cultural Center (EACC) and its founder Bedel Omar. The EACC engaged FTIES to help its families understand the needs of 13 children. Their special health care needs included complex medical conditions, developmental disability, autism, hearing or vision impairment, and the emotional health concerns of being young refugees. Working with the EACC gave FTIES staff a deeper understanding of the cultural beliefs of its members and the daily challenges facing refugees: learning English, understanding state services and systems of care, securing housing, finding job training and work opportunities, and engaging in their neighborhoods and city.

Through the generosity of the Department of Developmental Services, office space was made available to further the partnership. FTIES staff works with DPH Care Coordinators in the Western Region to engage health care services and identify programs and activities that will enrich the health and lives of Somali children. The Federation’s Parent Training and Information Center (PTI,) has worked to address many school-related concerns and improve education in the public schools for the community’s children.

In addition, a Federation intern from the Shriver Center LEND program completed a community scan on behalf of the EACC. This project provided a list of state and community agencies and programs located near the EACC. This is a first step towards collaboration with programs to benefit the EACC’s members and the community at large.

Since 2010, EACC members have attended the Federation’s annual Visions of Community (VOC) conference. The conference offers workshops on the educational and health systems, community engagement, and parent empowerment. Mr. Bedel Omar received the Federation’s Community Partnership Award in 2011 for his efforts within the Somali community This year the EACC brought a poster to educate attendees about the large number of African states represented in their membership. Family TIES and the Federation are committed to a relationship with the EACC in support of their leadership in the community.