LCSNW’s new Portland-Vancouver Director crosses oceans to be here
From Egypt to New York to Turkey, Peter Vogelaar has spent the past 25 years leading client-focused, community-based refugee programs. Whether he’s in the United States or overseas, in work or in play, he says he loves to use “the gifts we’ve all been given to welcome strangers.”
Soon Peter will bring his gifts to Lutheran Community Services Northwest. He will use them to serve immigrants and refugees in the Greater Portland area as the next director of Multicultural Community Services (MCS).
He will start Dec. 1 after transitioning from his international refugee resettlement work and embarking on a personal resettlement to the Pacific Northwest with his wife, Shannon. Their two adult children also now live in North America.
“I am eager to get to know the staff of LCSNW and the people served by its programs,” Peter says, “and to seek out those places where we can exchange the gift of welcome – even those places we least expect.”
For the past 10 years Peter has been based in Istanbul as head of the Cultural Orientation and Training Department for the Resettlement Support Center for Turkey and the Middle East. The Catholic-affiliated organization guides applicants through the resettlement process under a U.S. State Department contract. Peter arrived just as the Syrian refugee crisis was unfolding; he has witnessed Turkey’s evolution from a country of less than 50,000 refugees to more than 4 million today, the most in the world.
Coming to LCSNW, Peter says he will have “a lot to learn on the domestic side, having been out for 10 years.” But he has a firm foundation, thanks to his previous decade in Utica, New York. From 2002 to 2012, he was Executive Director of the widely respected Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees, simply known as The Center. The services there – case management, employment, interpretation and translation, immigration counseling, cultural competence training, and more – are similar to what he will oversee in Portland, Vancouver, Beaverton and Salem.
Welcoming refugees and immigrants is more than a job for Peter; it is a deep commitment and a family tradition. His father, Harold Vogelaar, was pastor at St. Andrew’s Church in Cairo, Egypt, and founder of a relief ministry today known as St. Andrew’s Refugee Services. Peter grew up in Cairo and later took over what his father created. First he earned a History degree at Hope College in Michigan. He also holds a Master’s in International Development from Western Michigan University.
At LCSNW, Peter will also follow a legend, so it’s good that he is well equipped for the task. Salah Ansary, who has led LCSNW refugee programs for nearly four decades, will become the agency’s first Senior Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs.
“I’m humbled to walk in Salah’s footsteps but excited to take the reins of what he helped create,” Peter said.
Likewise, Peter has earned the admiration of his predecessor. The two have known each other since Peter’s years building up refugee services in upstate New York. Salah welcomes the “strong leadership and a fresh perspective” that his successor will bring to MCS.