A History of Helping Refugees

When a band of volunteers from West Side set up an apartment in Jersey City for a family of five from Eritrea, they didn’t know they were following in the footsteps of Frank and Barbara Schott, who co-chaired a West Side task force to help refugees from Southeast Asia in 1979.

“A few years after the end of the Vietnam War, there was a nationwide pang of conscience that led to the widespread acceptance of refugees from Southeast Asia,” Frank explained, “and churches were called on to help.”

The Schotts’ task force was charged with helping three families—the Nguyen family from Vietnam, the Tran brothers from Vietnam and the Vichittra family from Laos. That involved doing just about “everything” for the refugees—finding apartments, helping with job placement, enrolling the children in school, shopping for groceries, arranging for medical care, standing in unemployment and food stamp lines with them, etc. “Saying that we were heavily involved is putting it mildly,” Frank recalled. “We were involved every day. We basically had to run their lives.”

By 1983, all of the families had moved away from the area. And Frank and Barbara kept in touch with the Vichittras. “Every year we would send them a Christmas card and a check, and Sipay [Mrs. Vichittra] would send us a letter,” said Frank. When Barbara passed away, Mr. and Mrs. Vichittra and their daughter made monetary donations to West Side in her honor. And, with Frank’s blessing, 10 percent of Barbara’s memorial gifts was donated to RAFT, West Side’s Refugee Assistance for Families Team. “Barbara was the original do-gooder, and her memorial gifts are supporting the current task force, bridging the past and the present,” he said. What a blessing to West Side