First Friends information meeting packs church

Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Brewer Redwine
Approximately 100 people gather at St. George’s to learn more about immigration and detention.

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — On Tuesday, Feb. 7, St. George’s Church in Maplewood held an informational meeting for prospective volunteers for First Friends, an organization that provides, according to their brochure, “dignity and compassion for immigrants” through visitation, advocacy, education and providing care to released detainees.

The church was packed with people from different religions interested in learning about First Friend’s mission.

“It was a rainy, foggy, awful night and about 100 people showed up when they were initially expecting a dozen,” Janet Immerman of Montclair said.

First Friends board member and event host Ken Boccino, a reverend deacon, spoke about a “tug at the back of the neck” that got people to the meeting, and asked that attendees do something to help others whether they ended up volunteering with First Friends or not.

The evening was an educational experience for many attendees who learned about immigration, detention and more.

“I was shocked and saddened to learn that there are approximately 2,500 immigrants being held in detention facilities near where we live,” Marybeth Brown of West Orange said. “These people are often fleeing the most desperate circumstances, risking everything for a better life.”

Boccino showed a short film with firsthand accounts from both detainees and volunteers, and volunteers got up and spoke to prospective volunteers as well. One of the most powerful parts of the evening occurred when a released detainee who had gained asylum described his experience and how St. George’s, through First Friends, had hosted him in the rectory because he had no friends or family in the United States. The Rev. Bernard Poppe also discussed his experience hosting this man.

To learn more about First Friends, send an email to, call 908-965-0455 or visit