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Jessica O’Hearn and Libby Morley are members of CARE. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/JOYCE WESTNER

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Among the most recently arrived Winchester residents is a woman who heard about refugees that had been suddenly sent to a Woburn hotel. 

Charles Road resident Libby Morley joined a group that just formed this April and quickly recruited her neighbor Jessica O’Hearn to help. 

CARE stands for Community Action for Refugee Emergency, and it was started by members of various faith communities and the Network for Social Justice. The title, according to O’Hearn, is because the group wants to get services to refugee families as fast as possible.

Morley first heard about the group at Epiphany Church, where a Haitian woman talked about the Woburn group. Epiphany Church’s “Journey to Justice” program had been involved a few years back with helping Afghan refugees settle in the area.

Haitian immigrant Andrins Renaudin speaks at the Unitarian Church. COURTESY PHOTO/JESSICA O’HEARN

The services, says O’Hearn, are helping the more than 300 Haitians learn English and also moving them and their possessions to apartments. She declined to say where the shelter is because whenever that information is made public, protesters show up. 

CARE helps a few Brazilian and Venezuelan families too, she says. These are legal immigrants, O’Hearn points out, and most of the adults have jobs. 

In order to help them learn English, CARE offers lessons six times a week both in the morning and the evening. The learners are so eager, she says, “they come running in from their jobs, knowing they’ll be a little late, which is so encouraging to our volunteers.”

CARE was able to hire an English language teacher from Acton to train 30 volunteers, and Morley just taught her first class this week. But she’s no stranger to the program — she volunteered back in New Jersey before moving here to be near her daughter’s family. 

A retired social worker, she says she wants to do anything she can “to help people be empathetic to the plight of the refugees.” She tells a story of telling her tablemates at a local function about the refugees, and heard what she calls “absurd negative comments.”

 “These are people who’ve fled the earthquake, the cholera epidemic, and terrible crime,” she says.

O’Hearn was also a social worker and she home-schooled her two children during the COVID pandemic, but once they went back to school, she was looking for something meaningful to do. 

“I love community-building,” she says, “and it’s so much fun to work with a friend.”

To the point that she got another neighbor involved. 

“Katie Pereira is our project manager,” she says. (O’Hearn and Morley are the language training managers.) “And I asked my best friend in Malden to help, so she manages the volunteer scheduling.”

Another founding member, Bob Davidson, is a retired priest and his son is the current Epiphany Church minister. He manages the committee that finds housing for the refugees.

O’Hearn says the refugees are flexible as the committee members get the program off the ground. 

“We say it’s like we’re building a plane as we’re flying it,” she says, adding she’s grateful for the many residents who responded to her Facebook Amazon wish list.

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