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Being the ‘face of Christ’ to others

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ST. MARGARET MARY DEANERY — Joan Hudepohl has always been passionate about social justice and both she and husband, Bob, have searched for ways to put their faith into action. Parishioners at St. John the Baptist Parish in Dry Ridge, the Hudepohls found that opportunity when they offered a small duplex they own as transitional housing for refugees.

The couples’ connection with the Refugee Resettlement Program of Catholic Charities of SouthWestern Ohio began in 2007. Joan Hudepohl was leading a Just Faith group at the parish and invited Cindy Grieme, outreach program coordinator for Catholic Charities, to advise participants on how they might continue their spiritual journey with concrete actions of faith and justice.

“Cindy was looking for places for refugees to move into,” Joan Hudepohl recalled. “Our duplex was for sale but just sitting empty, so we decided to do something good with it.”

Bob and Joan Hudepohl, members of St. John the Baptist Parish in Dry Ridge, offered their duplex as transitional housing for refugees. (CT/Eileen Connelly, OSU)

Catholic Charities, working in conjunction with the U.S. Catholic bishops and U.S. State Department, resettles as many as 150 individuals a year in the Cincinnati area, Grieme explained. The refugees are fleeing wars, discrimination and violence in their own countries. They arrive in the United States with few belongings and speaking little English, but are filled with hope and gratitude at the opportunity for a new life.

The goal of the Resettlement Program, said Grieme, is that the refugees will learn English, find jobs and becoming self-sufficient, contributing members of the community. Transitional housing, such as the Hudepohls’ duplex, aids in that process for the incoming refugees.

With the help of the parish, the Hudepohls were able to completely furnish both two-bedroom apartments. The first family they housed was a couple with four children from Burundi, a small country in eastern Africa. In total 60 people from 11 families found a safe, affordable refuge in the Hudepohls’ duplex. With items donated by members of St. John, as well as parishioners at the neighboring Corpus Christi and St. John Neumann, numerous other refugee families also received the necessary items to set up households and begin their new lives. Most of the families resided in the Hudepohls’ for an average of three months before moving into more permanent housing.

Ghana Neopaney, who spent 17 years in a refugee camp in Nepal before coming to the United States last year, is grateful for the hospitality the Hudepohls’ extended to him and his family members during the time they resided in the duplex. “It was a great help to us,” he said.

”They are very nice people.”

Life in the camp was “very rough,” recalled Neopaney. “We lived in a small hut made of plastic and bamboo. There were no basic facilities for survival.”

“My life is totally changed now,” added Neopaney who works at Kroger and is studying to become a bio-medical engineer. “We have a nice life here and good opportunities. I would like to thank all of the agencies and people that have helped us.”

The Hudepohls are humble about their efforts and say the chance to offer a temporary home to the arriving families was a real and meaningful way to live their faith.

“This is the basis of Christianity,” Joan Hudepohl said. “You can’t call yourself a follower of Christ and overlook any of His people. You can’t just collect a few cans and think you’re being a Christian. You have to really do something to make a change in the lives of the poor.”

“People have needs 365 days a year, added her husband. “That’s what really got us involved in this. You have to do something to reach out to people. You can’t just talk about it.”

The couple also spoke of what they have learned from the refugees and urged others to come to their assistance. “I’d like people to know what they suffered through to get here legally. It took years and years and they’ve had hard lives. I’ve learned about endurance from them,” said Joan Hudepohl.

The refugees have taught him about gratitude said Bob Hudepohl. “Whatever you do for them, they’re totally appreciative, even for the simple things.

Although the Hudepohls recently sold their duplex, they plan to remain involved in the Resettlement Program by continuing to coordinate the collection of household items at the parish.

Grieme praised their efforts saying, “We have been so blessed by our connection with the Hudepohls. They have truly been the face of Christ to the refugees.”

In addition to the Hudephols, other individuals and parishes, including Our Mother of Sorrows, have also assisted with the Resettlement Program, Grieme noted. 

“There is a huge need for help in the refugee program and with specific housing needs,” she said. “We would be happy to meet with individuals or parishes who wish to help. This is definitely a partnership. The refugees have so much to share and can truly enrich our lives. It’s a win-win situation.”

For more information, contact Grieme at 513-241-7745.

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