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The best journeys are often those we don’t anticipate. Such is the case with the creation of Tennessee Resettlement Aid (TRA) and its co-founders. Only six months ago, Katie Finn, Saleem Tahiri, and Julie Pine were strangers, but now they’re working together to spearhead this nonprofit organization to assist hundreds of Afghan refugees and their families.

The idea for the organization began in 2021 when Katie, who worked for a local resettlement agency, was waiting at the Nashville airport to meet an Afghan refugee. The image of the man arriving alone and carrying nothing but a plastic bag of documents stayed with Katie. She knew she needed to help and asked for assistance from neighbors and friends, telling them Afghan refugees were arriving in Tennessee unprepared for the cold winter ahead. It didn’t take long for Katie’s living room to overflow with donations of warm clothes. It was this call for support that led Katie to Julie and Saleem, and ultimately, the creation of TRA.

Founders of Tennessee Resettlement Aid: Julie Pine, Saleem Tahiri, and Katie Finn

From left to right: The founders of Tennessee Resettlement Aid — Julie Pine, Saleem Tahiri, and Katie Finn.

What started as a project in Katie’s living room has turned into a full-blown humanitarian aid organization with a large network of volunteers. To date, TRA has assisted hundreds of Afghan allies by providing them with food, infant support, dental and vision care, career assistance, transportation, and more.

“Our story is really quite special because of what we’ve been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time,” says Katie. “We like to say that we were born in the fire, that we saw a crisis unfolding in our city, and although we weren’t exactly ready to answer the call (who is?), we banded together and something beautiful was born.”

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Three women holding bags of donations

When TRA was first formed in 2021, Katie says volunteers were delivering food to almost 300 refugees per week. They still provide emergency food to dozens of families with help from The Branch of Nashville.

Family receiving vision care from Tennessee Resettlement Aid

In addition to food and clothing donations, TRA also works with medical providers and accompanies individuals to their appointments. Through this medical advocacy, many families have been able to receive vision and dental care.

While there are local resettlement agencies providing similar services, many of them have found themselves overwhelmed and unable to help due to the massive number of refugees who need assistance. “TRA has worked hard to fill some of those gaps in Nashville and help carry some of this impossible burden,” Katie tells us. “When [TRA] learns of a new family or a single person, we visit almost immediately to introduce [ourselves]. We ask what they need — be it coats, shoes, pots and pans, or emergency food — and then we work hard to get those items to them within hours.”

According to worldvision.org, nearly 42% of these refugees are under the age of 18. Katie says TRA serves more than 100 children, providing them with food, formula, diapers, and toys. “As a community, we need to pay attention to our refugee children and safely support them as they adjust and recalibrate,” she explains. “We do this because we love to see their smiles, but we understand that they’ll be a part of the fabric of our community, and we want them to pass on the gift of kindness down the line.”

Diaper donations

“We know that childhood is a formative time, and to experience trauma as a child can reverberate throughout a lifetime,” says Katie. This is why TRA helps hundreds of children by providing them with supplies they need such as diapers, formula, and bottles.

Family receiving bicycle donations from Tennessee Resettlement Aid

TRA also distributes bicycles, helmets, bike locks, and baskets to refugees.

Katie also points out some of the common misconceptions surrounding refugees right now. For starters, she says it’s important to understand the difference between an immigrant and a refugee. A refugee is a person who is forced to leave their country because of a direct threat to their life. In most cases, refugees don’t want to leave their homes and families behind to start over in a new country. “These aren’t people who wanted to come to the U.S. for more money or a different life — they had to leave under threat of death,” explains Katie. “Wherever they go — be it Nashville or another city — they deserve our utmost respect and all of the help they need to rebuild their lives.”

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The experience of starting TRA has given Katie some of the most beautiful and poignant memories, but she has also seen firsthand the heartbreak and frustration many refugees experience. “There is a real need for an organization that softens the landing for refugees in every city — one that holds their hand for a little longer and stands with them through the hardest times of their lives,” explains Katie. “I believe that there’s a place for this support system in Nashville and beyond.”

If you’re interested in helping TRA, the organization is currently in need of household cleaning items like dish soap, sponges, brooms, mops, washcloths, and paper towels, as well as personal hygiene items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, hairbrushes, sanitary pads, and toilet paper. The organization also accepts monetary donations, which can help provide refugees with dental and vision care. You can also volunteer with TRA by visiting their website and signing up for donation packing and deliveries.

To learn more about TRA and the ways you can help, visit tennesseeresettlementaid.org. All photography courtesy of Tennessee Resettlement Aid. 

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