Casa Alitas Welcomes All
When you first see the building that houses Casa Alitas it seems like any other large government building. But as you wind around the parking lot towards the back where Casa Alitas is located, you would never expect what greets you when you finally see it. There, looking at the colorful art tile that surrounds the purple door and frame, you know there is something different here.
Casa Alitas, a Catholic Community Services program, works with the city of Tucson, the Border Patrol and ICE to help meet the immediate needs of those crossing the border and seeking asylum. The service they provide fills the need so well and saves Tucson so much money that the city rents the location to it for $1 a year. It's a great example of partnership between government and charity to help those who really need it.
I came at the perfect time to take a tour with Volunteer Coordinator, Christy Stewart. Buses had come throughout the day bringing people newly arriving in the country. Christy greeted those who arrived with true welcome, love and energy and during my visit I saw that it doesn’t matter who you are - you still get the best welcome. As I walked through the place I saw that same characteristic in other volunteers as well.
My tour finished and then I got to see the volunteers in action as a bus pulled up to the door. Travelers exited the bus and were shown to a place to sit down and get information about what would happen next and given a little food. Next they took a COVID test to make sure everyone stays safe. If a person tests positive for COVID they are taken to a place to stay until they are safe to travel again. But it’s not just those with COVID who are seen. Staff and volunteers care for other medical needs as well or get the needed help for them.
Those who are well talk with other volunteers who help them connect with family and make travel arrangements in a way that meets their needs. Many may only be there an hour or so before they are taken to the airport to be quickly united with family members and friends.
Others, because of health or family separation issues, may need to stay a while. Volunteers will guide them to a place to eat or use the restroom or even get a shower. Other people may need to stay a while longer so they are given a room to sleep.
Before travelers arrive at Casa Alitas everything is taken from them except what fits in a gallon-sized ziplock bag. Imagine what you would keep if that’s all you could take to your new life! Fortunately people donate clothing that volunteers launder and distribute. Another group of volunteers, who go through a heavy security check, arrive late at night to run the washing machines and take care of the clothing and bedding.
I loved talking to one volunteer who excitedly told me about the little packets they give children. They are created with age appropriate things to do and toys to play with. She showed me what the packets have and I can see these would be a real blessing to both the parents and their children who enjoy them while waiting and traveling.
Everywhere you look you can see artwork that brightens the place and further welcomes people. It’s not just in the kids’ play area! Every corner seems to be used to help the people feel safe and welcome. This includes a language room and a room where one can pray or sit quietly.
It was about time for me to leave when I heard a quick shriek coming from the direction of the tent where people first sit to get their information. I turned and saw a woman run to another woman sitting there who jumped up so they could cling to each other. I did not need to understand the words they spoke to know that somehow these two had just reunited. So many are never sure if they will see their loved ones again, but here, in this beautiful, love-filled space, these two found each other and cried happily. And today, writing this, my own eyes filled up again. Christy told me this is not an uncommon thing there.
Tucson, and other cities, do so much more when they connect with charities such as Catholic Community Services’ Casa Alitas program. Economically it helps both the city and its citizens by taking care of things in a way that others might figure were not effective enough to try. But through the partnership with charities and the hands and hearts of volunteers, so much more happens than most people would imagine.
To volunteer with Casa Alitas, please contact Christy, [email protected].
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