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New nonprofit, SLO4Home, is helping Afghan refugees get established in the county 

Shalimar Restaurant, an often-packed SLO eatery serving Indian and Pakistani fare, wouldn't be here if it weren't for the immigrants who started it.

"As an immigrant, I moved here in 1994 from Pakistan," said Aasim Sajjad, who started the restaurant with his family. "We opened our restaurant in 2007."

Sajjad remembers the barriers he and his family faced when they first immigrated to the United States.

"I know what difficulties we feel to move to this country: language barriers, culture shock, religion, housing problems, finding jobs, and even getting a driver's license," he said.

click to enlarge SEEKING REFUGE SLO4Home plans to support eight to 10 Afghan refugee families in their journey to SLO County. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SLO4HOME
  • Photo Courtesy Of Slo4home
  • SEEKING REFUGE SLO4Home plans to support eight to 10 Afghan refugee families in their journey to SLO County.

Now the owner of a thriving restaurant, Sajjad wanted to give back to his immigrant community. So he got involved with SLO4Home, a new nonprofit on the Central Coast that is raising money to help those who fled Afghanistan last year start new lives in SLO County.

Sajjad is the co-chair of the job assistance committee, one of 10 committees that SLO4Home assembled to help refugees once they arrive.

SLO4Home board of directors Secretary Lauren Brown said the organization expects its first families to arrive in late March or early April.

"The U.S. State Department has developed a program called the Afghan Placement and Assistance Program," Brown said. "They empowered different agencies to implement that program, and these are agencies that over the decades have been involved in placing refugees from various parts of the world."

SLO4Home will be working through one of those agencies, Church World Service, a nondenominational organization that has been placing refugees since the end of World War II, Brown said.

"They provide a lot of support, so we don't have to reinvent the wheel," he said. "They are the agency who will be sending us the families, so that's very helpful."

Brown founded SLO4Home alongside local gastroenterologist Dr. Vance Rodgers.

"Last fall, in the aftermath of the horrendous pictures that we saw coming out of the Kabul airport in Afghanistan, we started thinking that we should do something about it," Brown recalled. "We thought maybe San Luis Obispo could help with resettling a few of the refugees."

After finding others in the community who felt the same calling to help, SLO4Home was born.

"At this point we have generated a very broad, diversified base of volunteers that encompass a variety of faith communities," Brown said, including "a number of Christian churches, a very large contingent of people from the Mosque of Nasreen, the Islamic Society in San Luis Obispo, Jewish congregations, and lots of veterans who were in Afghanistan and are passionate about helping to bring [refugees] to our community."

While the nonprofit is focused on bringing Afghan families to SLO right now, it's not limiting itself to any one group.

"Our mission statement is broad enough that SLO4Home could address other groups of refugees in the future," Brown said.

SLO4Home's various committees will offer refugees assistance with finding a job, transportation, housing, governmental coordination, culture and hospitality, and more. Job assistance co-chair Sajjad said SLO4Home's team of volunteers will do "everything we can do to get them comfortable in our society ... and start living their life and looking for a bright future for them and their kids."

The organization's housing committee has worked over the past couple of months to identify places where potential families could rent a house or apartment.

"It could be anywhere in the county," Brown said. "We as SLO4Home will help subsidize the rental for a number of months, until the family can get on their feet, find employment, and be able to sustain themselves."

The hope is to bring eight to 10 families to SLO County in the near future. SLO4Home aims to raise at least $250,000 this year and is asking the community to consider making a donation.

"I'm very thankful that I'm part of SLO4Home," Sajjad said. "This is my extended family to take care of, and I'm looking forward to progress."

Fast fact

Empower Yoga, the first yoga studio and community boutique in Grover Beach, held its grand opening earlier this month. Classes start at $18, and include power flow, restorative, and teen specific yoga classes—plus a free weekly class for first responders and caretakers. The boutique will carry items from primarily female-owned businesses and sustainable, mostly SLO County-made items. See all Empower Yoga has to offer at empoweryoga805.com. Δ

Reach Staff Writer Malea Martin at mmartin@newtimesslo.com.

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