Good Neighbuzz: Vive at Jericho Road

“I work to make people feel safe,” said Anna Mongo, Ph.D, chief program officer with Jericho Road Community Health Center and the director of Vive.

Jericho Road Community Health Center is a clinic with a focus on health, but also provides access to care and community development programs.

About five years ago, Jericho Road acquired Vive, which has been a shelter for asylum seekers in Western New York for more than 30 years. 

Vive is the largest shelter of its kind, and is unique because of Western New York’s proximity to Canada.

The shelter serves people seeking asylum in both the United States and Canada. 

Vive at Jericho Road started with South Americans seeking asylum in the United States and expanded from there. Now, many asylum seekers are coming from countries such as Sri Lanka, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Colombia, Turkey, and Pakistan. Vive serves between 120-160 people from 75 different countries in the building at any given point, but the number of people in the building can vary quite a lot.

Mongo said Jericho Road represents some of the best things of the “City of Good Neighbors,” in that there’s so much collaboration between her organization and several different organizations in Buffalo.

That includes all four resettlement agencies in Western New York, such as Journey’s End Refugee Services, the International Institute, 716 Ministries, Catholic Charities, the University at Buffalo’s School of Social Work, and even Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, which has taught fishing lessons to the local Burmese community.

Anna Mongo, Director, Vive

Many people became aware of the difficulties in immigration three years ago, when President Donald Trump took his oath of office. Mongo said there is a direct correlation in the uptick of asylum seekers at the shelter and the current administration.

With big policy changes, it left many people unsure of the future.

Many people who may have been living undocumented for a long time also began to seek safety before being separated from family members.

“It has been absolutely astounding how progressive Buffalo has been,” Mongo said.

She said an executive order from Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, with his commitment to refugee resettlement, is a large part of that progressive attitude.

“It was clear to me that Buffalo cares,” she said.

There are a lot of misconceptions about immigration and resettlement that the dozen staffers at Vive are working against to keep the community informed. “It’s easy for people here in Buffalo to be disconnected from the Southern Border,” Mongo said. “A lot of them walked from Brazil to the U.S. You don’t make that journey unless you’re desperate.”

One of the many misconceptions people might have about asylum seekers is that they are poor. However, Mongo pointed out that, in order to travel and seek asylum, you actually have to be rich in your own country to make it. She said she’s seen engineers, lawyers, doctors, even professional sports players come through Jericho Road in her 15 years she’s been working there.

“It doesn’t matter to us, it’s a humanitarian mission,” Mongo said.

A lot of what Vive at Jericho Road does is give its asylum seekers the time, space, and access to community to deal with the grief of difficult journeys, especially to deal with the loss of loved ones along the way. “We try to be trauma-informed. Their story isn’t the main focus, we just see them as a person,” she said.

Mary Schaefer, Events & Marketing Coordinator, Vive

At Jericho Road, it is Mary Schaefer’s job as the events & marketing coordinator to get the word out about the shelter, as well as coordinate staff appreciation events. Schaefer said there are two major fundraisers she coordinates every year, which raise money for the shelter and global health clinics they partner with.

There is also a documentary being made in 2020, with the goal of a film screening this year. “We want people to know we exist,” Schaefer said. 

If you would like to help the shelter, there are many ways you can do so.

The shelter is always in need of volunteers, specifically anyone who may have law experience, anyone who is handy, teachers who can lead workshops, or people who want to play with the kids living there.

Monetary donations are also accepted, with checks made out to Jericho Road Community Health Center.

The shelter also has a wishlist they keep updated on their website, but they say the biggest item on the list is plastic totes. Those totes are used for people to store their clothes and belongings while they’re staying at the shelter.

Donations are accepted at Vive, 50 Wyoming Ave., Buffalo, NY 14215 anytime.

You can also give them a call at (716) 348-3000, email them at [email protected], or find them on Facebook.