From November 29th through December 10th, Catholic Social Services was glad to partner with Alaska Center for the Performing Arts to share stories of welcome from refugees in Alaska, during the two-week performance of Broadway’s Come From Away.
Focused on the arrival of 38 planes in the small community of Newfoundland on September 11, 2001, Come From Away is a testament to the power of kindness and community when welcoming strangers.
In the last few years, Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services (RAIS) has helped welcome hundreds of families from all over the world to life here in Alaska. The resilience and kindness of these new arrivals, as well as the welcoming response of Anchorage and the wider Alaskan community, is a reminder that the type of community shown in Come From Away exists here in Alaska, as well.
During performances of the Broadway musical, four RAIS clients shared their own stories of welcome in the lobby, and winter gear donations were accepted to benefit new arrivals.
Three of their stories are shared here.
Originally from Ukraine, Dina, a mother of six, arrived in the United States as a Ukrainian Humanitarian Parole in 2022. She has connected with the community through an online bakery operated by her family, selling cakes, cookies, and other desserts. One customer stands out to Dina as an example of how the bakery has helped connect her to the community, a man who came originally to buy bread. When the customer arrived to pick-up his freshly baked treat, Dina explained that her family spoke very little English and could not understand him very well. Using an online translator, he let them know he was formerly a teacher abroad and offered his help. He became an informal mentor to the family, visiting with his young child to practice English with Dina and the family. He brings books, notebooks, and lesson plans to practice with. From customers helping to charge her phone when she was lost on a delivery, to the many Ukrainians and Americans praising the baked goods through reviews, the bakery has helped connect Dina with the community here in Anchorage. She describes how important it is for her to connect with people and says that one of the things that has made her feel most welcome in Anchorage are the friendly attitudes of people here. Looking ahead, Dina dreams of remaining in the United States and pursuing a career as an interior designer. She hopes that, in time, her extended family will join her in this new chapter of her life.
Manasi is many things. He’s business owner at Grow North Farm, a friendly face for new community members, an interpreter for Catholic Social Services, and a 6-year employee at Walmart. With this many roles and abilities, Manasi is a vibrant and ever-present member of the Anchorage community. Born in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Manasi arrived in Anchorage seven years ago with his wife and three oldest children. He recalls how people helped him and his family when they were new to the state. In one instance, when his family had just moved into their first Anchorage apartment, an African neighbor came with a fresh-cooked meal. Manasi remembers thinking, “Now this is what I like!” Now, when a refugee family arrives in Anchorage, it is often Manasi and his family bringing them a fresh-cooked African meal. Manasi gives back, because he remembers what that meal meant to him, “When I remember that [meal], I like to help new people too.” Now an Anchorage resident for almost eight years, Manasi and his wife have two more children, completing a family of seven. For a short time, Manasi and the family moved to Ohio, but they very quickly came back to Anchorage, “Alaska is a quiet place, a place where to grow your kids, to raise your kids.” He is particularly fond of the mountains in the summer, as they remind him of mountains back in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, “The mountain reminds me of back home. So, these mountains make Alaska beautiful.” As he approaches his eight years in Alaska, Manasi is excited to continue building a life here. Recently, he opened a business at Grow North Farm in Mountain View with two family friends. The agriculture business, Family Group Farm, grows and sells carrots, potatoes, beans and more. His next goal to accomplish in Alaska “is to work hard so that I can buy my house, where I can store the future of my family.“
A 68-year-old singer-songwriter originally from Nova Kakhovka in Southern Ukraine, Valentin arrived in Anchorage with his wife, Tetiani in August 2022. When Valentin met with us to share his story of arriving in Anchorage, he brought with him a flag, signed by the many people he’s met in Anchorage. The flag proudly displays messages of support and kindness. A former engineer and English teacher, Valentin now works at Polar Bear Gifts. One signature on his Ukrainian flag is from a co-worker at the store. It reads, “Thank you for the cake and kindness.” His wife Tetiani loves to host and cook homemade Ukrainian meals for visitors, and the college students at the downtown shop are frequent recipients of her delicious home-made meals and baked foods. While his wife connects to the community through food, Valentin connects through music. With his guitar, he shares his love of Ukraine and Alaska through song – paying tribute to his two homes. Many Anchorage residents were introduced to his music during 2023’s World Refugee Day – an annual event in Anchorage that celebrates the many contributions of refugees to our community. One of Valentin’s most recent self-composed songs celebrates his homeland Ukraine and is titled “There is No Land Like Mine.” In his own words, “I would like to thank everyone who helped us come here and help us be here. Thank you so much. ” Soon his son and daughter-in-law, who are still in Ukraine, will join him and Tetiani Here in Anchorage with Valentin’s 4 grandchildren.