Venezuelan family of six turns to a Bridge Refugee Services Community Assistance Team (CAT) for help and friendship.

As a Venezuelan family of six has adjusted to life in East Tennessee, they’ve turned to a Bridge Refugee Services Community Assistance Team (CAT) for help and friendship.

“They help with everything,” said Asdrubal, who resettled in Chattanooga in early June with his wife, Miley, and their four sons: Adrian, 18, Alexander, 15, Axel, 5, and Eliam, 18 months.

The family left their home in Caracas, Venezuela, and lived as refugees in Ecuador before coming to America.

“It’s been four years and seven months since we left Venezuela,” Miley said. “Before the new government there, we were stable and happy. When this new government started, it became harder and harder to live there, so we decided to go to Ecuador.”

Once in Ecuador, she said it took two and a half years for the family to receive permission to enter the US as refugees.

Bridge volunteers, as well as members of the First-Centenary United Methodist Church CAT, greeted them at the airport and brought them to an apartment, which the CAT helped to furnish.

“The apartment, when we arrived, was very, very beautiful,” Miley said.

“We’ve never had an apartment like this, so huge and pretty,” Asdrubal added.

Since then, the roughly 20 members of the CAT have helped the family get to know their new community.

“It’s been a very positive experience,” said CAT member Susan Byrd. “There are a lot of ways to help. We’ve all sort of found where we fit in the best and where we can help the most. I like doing transportation and having interaction with the family.”

Susan said she has taken the family to medical appointments, shopping at Hispanic grocery stores and to get haircuts, giving her the opportunity to strengthen relationships and learn more about the diverse cultures that make up her community.

“That was a barber shop I never would have gone into,” she said. “That was a grocery store I never would have gone into. That, to me, has enriched my life.”

Susan said she’s also gained a better understanding of the refugee experience as they work towards self-sufficiency in a new country.

“I knew, intellectually, but I never thought about the difference between a refugee and an immigrant,” she said. “Refugees have gone through the process and are here because the government let them come. They are leaving something that is untenable in some level, whether its economic or violence or political or whatever. When you look at this family, you think, ‘This is what America is made of – people like this who want to work, who want a happy life and are kind.’”

Three days a week, CAT members drive Alexander and Axel from their apartment to an after-school program at First-Centenary UMC.

“They have English and games,” Miley said.

The boys also receive tutoring and homework help, as well as the chance to socialize with other kids their age.

After Bridge helped the boys enroll in school, members of the CAT took them back-to-school shopping and accompanied Axel and his parents when they went to meet his kindergarten teacher before school started.

“Axel loves his school,” Miley said. “The schools have been very helpful for us.”

Miley said she wants her sons to make the most of their opportunity to receive an education in America so they can secure a stable and safe future for themselves.

“I want to see them be successful in this country,” she said. “Here, (the teachers) are very good with them and very helpful with the boys.”

While she said the boys also had good teachers in Ecuador, jobs were scarce.

“We worked in Ecuador independently because no one was there to help us find a job,” she said.

Bridge, however, is helping both she and Asdrubal with their job search. While Asdrubal has secured a job with a construction company, he hopes to pursue a career in business administration or publicity in the future.

“We are learning about so much stuff we didn’t have the opportunity in other countries to learn, and here we have the opportunity to learn about different things,” he said. “Here is a country with big opportunities to do whatever you want to do. Our big, big dream is to have a house.”

Miley, who is also taking English classes with Asdrubal, hopes to teach Spanish.

“Before that, I have to learn English,” she said. “If it’s something to help with the kids in school, I would love to do that, too.”

CAT members donated bikes, helmets and toys to the children, as well as a van, which the couple eagerly awaits to drive as soon as they pass their driving tests. The van, they said, will help their children be able to participate in more activities.

“Alexander wants to play soccer,” Miley said. “Adrian is talking to some friends to see if they can help him get a job where they’re working.”

Bridge relies on CATs like the one at First-Centenary UMC to welcome new arrivals in their new communities. After completing a training course taught by Bridge, a CAT commits to supporting a Bridge client or client family for three to six months.

Susan said she’d known about Bridge for years, but didn’t truly understand their mission until she joined the CAT.

“It’s a hidden asset,” she said. “I really think they did a good job of telling us what we needed to do and helping us along the way and answering our questions. I have liked working for an organization where I feel like what I’m doing is of value and is actually helpful.”

She has also enjoyed the time she’s spent with Asdrubal, Miley and their boys.

“They’ve become a part of our lives,” she said. “They are so nice and appreciative and so kind.”

Asdrubal and Miley said they are grateful to Bridge and the CAT for everything they’ve done for them.

“If not for them, we would have nothing here, so we are grateful for all of that,” Miley said.