by  Annique Boomsma and Joan Epstein

Lucio Perez, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala,  currently living in Sanctuary at the First Congregational Church in Amherst, has brought to life a wonderful community. In the last 18 months, while he has been effectively imprisoned in the church, a tight knit group of people who did not know each other before has come together to create a web of support for Lucio, his wife, and children.

This network of volunteers provides meals, rides for Lucio’s family, shopping,  laundry service, and enjoyable monthly potlucks with speakers, singing and music, and most importantly,  accompaniment for Lucio.

The task of accompaniment involves being present for Lucio, which is a joy.  Lucio’s warmth, kindness, humor, big-heartedness, spiritual outlook, integrity, and ability to take challenges in stride are an inspiration.

The goal of accompaniment is to consistently have a person there during four-hour shifts during the day and for overnight shifts.  Shifts may be shared. It is a time to read, knit, work, study, answer the phone, greet people coming to see Lucio at the door, and spend time with Lucio when he stops by for a visit in the shift room. Our job is to witness Lucio’s life in Sanctuary. Some shifts are quiet and others may be full of folks coming and going. Community members drop off meals, take Spanish lessons, attend classes, services and meetings at the Church.  Not Bread Alone serves meals and Lucio’s friends and family visit.

The task of supporting a person in Sanctuary requires the commitment of many volunteers at which we have been able to very successfully provide . Over time volunteers’ lives change and particularly at this time other people are needed to step up to take on accompaniment shifts, especially on weekends and overnight. However, all help is welcome!

A short training is required to begin volunteering.  To volunteer or to request additional information contact Lydia Vernon Jones at  lvernonjones@gmail.com or  1-413-335-2990
Editor’s note:  you can read two earlier features on Lucio Perez and his experience in sanctuary,  originally published in The Daily Hampshire Gazette,  here and here.

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