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Saying the cause 'speaks to me,' Replacements founder gives $100,000 to resettle Afghan refugees
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Saying the cause 'speaks to me,' Replacements founder gives $100,000 to resettle Afghan refugees

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Bob Page gave a gift that Church World Service hopes to build on in resettling Afghan refugees. Mary Ellen Poe says about $1 million is needed.

GREENSBORO — Donations from businessman Bob Page often come with a request not to publicize them unless it may be crucial to awareness of an issue.

When the founder of Replacements, Ltd., the world's largest china and crystal dealer, sat down for a virtual meeting with Mary Ellen Poe of Church World Service, he had already been thinking about ways to help with the resettlement of Afghan refugees.

Church World Service and other local resettlement agencies are preparing for an influx that could come in the next few weeks. The organization is working with its sister agencies to welcome the Afghan people, make sure basic needs are met and help them become independent.

"He said, 'I know I want to do something. I want to be involved. I want to contribute,'" said Poe, the North Carolina development coordinator for the nonprofit agency. "And he said he'd get back with me — and three minutes later he did."

Page pledged $100,000 —  the largest individual gift in the organization’s history. 

"It really is a powerful experience to witness people at their most generous," said Poe, who admits stuttering in shock. "I had no idea. No idea. This is the foundation, although it will take all of us together working on this to make sure that families can stabilize and get on their feet."

Page said he just wants to be a good neighbor.

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"It really speaks to me," Page said of wanting to help. "I want them to use it how they best see fit. Whatever they think is best because they know more than I do."

Here with almost nothing, some of those newcomers fought alongside and aided American soldiers during the decades-long war in Afghanistan while others are fleeing the resulting turmoil from the United States pulling troops from the country. They are now being processed at a number of military bases. 

Over the next year the agency could get 500 refugees to resettle, and that could take about a $1 million. The group is asking others to give what they can.

"My family was poor," recalled Page, who grew up in Rockingham County. "My dad was a tobacco farmer and our family of six lived in a three-room house with no bathroom. But at the same time, my dad liked to help other people. That’s why I feel like it’s important to help others."

Some know him from Bob's Closet, which provides free clothing to those in need throughout the Triad. Others from giving Triad Health Project a home he owned in a picturesque neighborhood to serve as a community sanctuary for people living with or affected by AIDS and HIV.

And when Kosovo refugees from the former Yugoslavia arrived in Guilford County in 1999, his company hired more than 100 people and offered English language classes.

The Triad is known for being generous and having one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse regions in the country. In the past, resettlement agencies like Church World Service have tried to group people in hubs like Raleigh, Durham and Greensboro. Over the years, though, there have been complaints about available housing for these newcomers, who lack jobs to say nothing of credit references.

So Church World Service is working on finding community sponsors in pockets all over the state who will stick with the families for four to six months. 

"We have the same concerns about affordable housing and we want people to come here and feel safe in their new homes," Poe said. "We are working on it."

Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 336-373-7049 and follow @nmclaughlinNR on Twitter.

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