Welcome to Warren

County residents welcome more Erie refugees

Times Observer photo by Dave Ferry The group from Erie along with some of the trip’s organizers, including Bill Massa, his wife Mary, and MCRC staff.

On Tuesday, an ad hoc committee of Warren County residents, supported by others in the community, brought a group of 25 refugees from Erie, a sanctuary city, to Warren. They were greeted by Dave Sherman, executive director of the Warren County Visitors Bureau, who welcomed the group to Warren County.

The refugees are aided in their resettlement in Erie by the Multicultural Community Resource Center (MCRC) whose associate director, Paul Jericho, and a small support group accompanied the refugees to Warren. Ninety-percent come from Bhutan. Of the remainder, Barnabas, was the youngest of the group. He is an 18-year-old Pakistani refugee who has learned to speak five languages without education. He currently lives in Erie with his parents and siblings, having been in the United States for two years.

Most of the refugees do not speak English, but Marcus, a fellow Bhutanese and an MCRC employee, would interpret for them. He stood side-by-side with Steve Lauser, a park ranger at the Kinzua Dam, who explained the major functions of the dam and answered any questions posed by the group.

“How deep is the reservoir?” one asked.

After hearing Marcus interpret the question, Lauser answered, “130 feet,” and Marcus relayed the information to the group.

Times Observer photo by Dave Ferry After hiking the interpretive trails at Heart’s Content the group of more than thirty people, including the refugees, trip organizers and MCRC staff, posed for a group shot.

Diane Brant and Paula Burgess Worthington, who accompanied and assisted the hosts, were original Kinzua residents. They told the group of being displaced by the dam’s construction. Paula’s family owned the Kinzua Corydon Telephone Company.

Next, the organizing committee served lunch for the group at Betts Park. After lunch, they were bused to Heart’s Content National Recreation Area to hike the trails.

Everyone was interested in hiking the 1.1 mile loop trail. Since the group was mostly non-communicative, the hosts learned little about them and their journey from Bhutan to Erie. Although, they were all very animated on the hike. An accompanying MCRC person said, “The happier they are, the more vocal they are.” Judging by the noise, one could only assume they were having a great time.

The Bhutanese women were dressed in colorful native garb, some of which one might think were hardly suitable for Allegheny National Forest hiking, but they hiked with ease and enjoyment.

Many of them found the hike to be bittersweet because it reminded them of their homeland. Marcus said “We have these pine trees in Bhutan, too.” Forestry is a major industry in Bhutan.

The hosting hikers also learned that the Bhutanese people use fiddlehead ferns, the same observed on the forest floor, in their cooking with curry. One gentleman plucked a chunk of moss from a log and exclaimed to a disbelieving hike leader, “We eat this.”

After the hike, Barnabas, the 18 year old Pakistani, confessed he was at first reluctant to make the trip to Warren, but the natural beauty of the Kinzua Dam, the Allegheny Reservoir and National Forest changed his tune. “I want to come back again.”

When he was told about the changing color of the leaves in October, he said, “I’ll see you in October.”

The MCRC assists the refugees in learning English and teaching them work skills for job placement. MCRC has a staff of approximately 50 people in Erie.

Bill Massa, one of the local organizers, added that “The immigration and refugee issue, a hot-button issue in the United States currently, hardly enters in to this undertaking.” He said. “The visitors are here by sanctioned and lawful means, and the hosts welcome them to Warren County in a warm fashion, with out-stretched arms and in a non-judgemental manner”

In addition to Bill Massa and his wife Mary, the trip was organized by Warren residents Jennifer Bliss, Rose Mazzocchi, Steve Warner, and Phyllis Wright.