Chapter Houses Family When No One Else Could
Delta Omicron House Corporation leaders acted quickly to strengthen their community when they answered the Fulton (Missouri) Afghan Resettlement Project’s call for help two years ago. Practically overnight, the Delta Tau Delta chapter’s annex, meant to serve as overflow housing for the chapter, became temporary housing for an Afghan family with young children.
The area’s resettlement assistance efforts began in the summer of 2021 when members of the Fulton Rotary Club decided to respond to the crisis in Afghanistan. The group contacted an organization leading local refugee resettlement efforts in the area, Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri. Surmising that larger cities would be better for refugees, the organization initially turned them down.
Eventually, the organization developed a “community sponsorship” settlement program, allowing community groups to sponsor and support refugees. With a population of about 13,000, Fulton is home to Westminster College and William Woods University, and the community was ready to welcome its newest residents.
The first call to the Fulton Afghan Resettlement group received required immediate action — a family of 14 was arriving the next day. The group scrambled to find supplies and a place for them to stay. A connection through Fulton Rotary and a former professor led the group to Westminster College. The school could not help, but Delt alumnus Brock Ayers (Westminster College, 1982) included Delta Omicron House Corporation President Gary Ridenhour (Westminster College, 1992) in an email asking for input on a solution.
Ridenhour realized the chapter’s annex could be made available and seemed to be the only option for a family of 14. As a 29-year Army veteran, Ridenhour was emotionally tied to the effort. “I had recently retired as an Army Colonel with multiple combat tours in support of GWOT (Global War on Terrorism), and had spent significant time as a senior officer working on the Afghanistan drawdown gyrations that began in 2012,” Ridenhour said. “I proposed to the board that we provide the annex for a year at no cost; the approval was unanimous and enthusiastic. We (board and active chapter) worked with the leads of the resettlement group to prepare the annex and ensure it was a safe, warm and welcoming environment for the refugees.”
“It was very quick,” said Madhav Reddy (Westminster College, 2007), who serves as Delta Omicron House Corporation treasurer. “Everybody contributed in some fashion. There was an Amazon registry list to get essential household goods. We ultimately came to the decision not to charge any expenses, rent or utilities. The Delt house corporation absorbed those costs.”
“This is a story of humanity,” Ridenhour said. “I was proud to be a very small part of a larger effort to do what was right for this family and many more by Catholic Charities and the resettlement group. The bonus was getting the men of the chapter involved and letting them experience the human impact of policy decisions and the importance of empathy. Without their efforts, this would not have been possible.”
Bob Sterner of the Fulton Afghan Resettlement Project contacted Delta Tau Delta leaders to express thanks. “Some of us in Fulton, Missouri, wanted to make sure that Delta Tau Delta’s Omicron Delta Chapter at Westminster College was recognized for an outstanding piece of generosity that helped us accommodate a need in the community when no one else would or could,” he wrote. The group's letter appears below.
We could not pass this stage of a great relationship with the Delta Omicron chapter of Delta Tau Delta at Westminster College without sharing the story of the chapter’s generosity with the regional directorate of the organization, of which it is a distinguished part.
After watching the 2021 American military evacuation from Afghanistan of its personnel and some of those Afghans who had risked their lives working with our troops, some of us in Fulton, Missouri, set out to help some of the Afghan families sent this way to establish their new lives.
We began our search for housing and found that the local Delta Tau Delta chapter had an empty building on hand for when the chapter’s house did not have enough rooms for members. Once we contacted the house corporation about its “annex” and explained the situation, the chapter offered use of its building for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year. What’s more, the chapter lent furniture for what was set up as two three-bedroom apartments. The active members delivered and placed furniture for us, which our mostly retired resettlement volunteers appreciated.
Somewhere in there, we needed to negotiate a price for our use of the building. The Delts held out for $0, and we gratefully agreed. The lease for the two apartments was to end in July 2022, at which time the chapter wanted its annex back to house members the next school year.
Then we were told that the first family to come under our sponsorship consisted of the father, who had fought with U.S. troops for more than 20 years, his wife and their 11 children. We needed to renegotiate with the Delts, who thought through the situation and agreed to the entire family occupying the two apartments at the same $0 rent.
Knowing the fraternity needed its annex before the fall semester of 2022, our real estate and property management veteran volunteer had begun looking for someplace for this family to move long before our annex lease was to expire. As we went from spring to summer of 2022, it was clear we could not find a place for the family – which had expanded by one with the winter birth of the first U.S. citizen in the family. Back to the Delts we went, and they again gifted us, this time with an extension of the lease to the end of November.
In November, an oft-approached, civic-minded landlord agreed to renting a house to be filled with our family with 12 children. The Delts had given us the time we needed for that rental to come to us.
Even in this short account of the situation, you can see how vital the Delts’ gifts were. We really do not know what we would have done had the chapter not stepped up to satisfy the need to house this large family for more than a year. With the shelter for the biggest Afghan family taken care of by the Delta Omicron chapter, our volunteers could comfortably turn to assuring that family and five others who came here had food, clothing, household goods, transportation, access to education and medical treatment, and everything else that comes on the list of basic needs after shelter.
We sincerely thank the Delta Omicron chapter for recognizing a need which only it was in a position to satisfy and then satisfying it This family of displaced persons who benefited from that generosity will be thankful for years to come for the fraternity’s gift which they found as their refuge one night in the fall of 2021 when they stepped into the annex, their first American home, for the first time.
Bob Hansen, Joan Morris, Bob Sterner
Fulton Afghan Resettlement Project