Travel Log: First Friends Site Visit

Sister Susan McCarthy, RDC
October 24, 2018

First Friends means exactly what it says. It is an organization that reaches out to be the first friends to refugees and asylum seekers left in detention and corrections centers in Essex, Hudson, and Bergen counties in New Jersey.

First Friends was started in 1999 by groups from Jesuit Refugee Service and Community Services of the Archdiocese of Newark, staff members, and over 200 volunteers; visit detainees, send cards and letters, and make themselves available to detainees.

Today, we visited with the staff and some former detainees to hear how effective this organization has been in truly welcoming and caring for the women and men who are forced into detention cells.

We listened to several of these immigrants tell of their experiences of horrible disrespect and brutality. Ali, who learned English while in detention, asked us “to listen not to my broken words, but feel my broken heart.”

Ali and his friends told us of the great dignity and respect shown to them when First Friends officials Sally Pillay, Program Coordinator and Social Worker, and Rosa Santana, Coordinator of Visitation Program reached out and offered them consolation. They initiate contact with the detainees asking if they would like a visit or have any other needs.

In appreciation of the efforts of the First Friends staff, many detainees have created works of art displayed on the Wall of Gratitude.

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View more photos from this event here.

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