Catholic Charities has been assisting with settling Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy since they began arriving in Wisconsin. (Photograph appears courtesy of U.S. DoD. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.)

Since the arrival of nearly 13,000 Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy, the five Wisconsin Catholic Charities chapters have been assisting with the physical, social and emotional needs of the newcomers who are guests at the base. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services, at the request of the U.S. State Department, is coordinating this historic statewide collaboration of Catholic partners to welcome the stranger.

Catholic Charities, locally and across the state, are the primary providers of volunteers on base and are responsible for facilitating donations of material items. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of La Crosse is providing daily coordination of social, recreation and wellness activities for families.

It is anticipated that the remaining 7,000 Afghan refugees temporarily housed by the Department of Defense will be resettled by early spring. As many as 200-400 Afghan refugees will be resettled in Wisconsin through various resettlement agencies, including Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay.

This interagency effort was buoyed by an initial $30,000 donation from the Wisconsin Catholic bishops and supported by the efforts of parishes throughout the state.

“Even more than material goods, these men, women and children need to find friendship and security,” wrote the bishops of Wisconsin in a joint statement issued Sept. 17. “They need to be shown that there is great hope for their futures and that their presence is welcome in our beautiful state. Having endured enormous trauma, they need time and support to heal.”

Creating an enriching social structure on the base is a critical part of Catholic Charities’ role. Volunteers provide refugees with a welcoming atmosphere, a break from the confines of temporary housing and relief from their difficult journey. Among the services provided are on-base legal assistance, social engagement, and learning and recreation centers. The women’s centers provide a quiet and clean place for mothers to bond and play with their children and develop friendships. The children’s area is a place for children to gather and create arts and craft projects, build puzzles, play games and be social. Volunteers keep the centers running safely and smoothly.

“I can’t believe I just finished day four. The time is flying. Overall, it’s been an amazing, inspiring, heartwarming and at times heartbreaking and chaotic experience,” said Alane, a volunteer through Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Working with children in the recreation area, she said, “I can only imagine what these kids have gone through, and I am awed by how strong and resilient they are.”

Jay Sugar, former parish relations coordinator for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee said, “I can’t think of a group of people more deserving of our comfort (and) our love. When you meet these individuals, you realize people are the same the world over.”

“Catholic Charities is committed to the needs of the Afghan refugees for as long as they are here in our state,” said Ricardo Cisneros, chief operating officer for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. “We will continue to provide support for community integration for Afghans who are resettled in the Milwaukee area. Local volunteers from parishes and the community are essential to help refugees with a successful transition.”

Andrew Ruesch is coordinating volunteers and support to assist Afghan refugees through Catholic Charities. To learn more about volunteering or to make a financial donation, visit