GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Fleeing the only life they’ve known under threat of the Taliban, Afghan refugees resettling in West Michigan are eager to form the community they lost.

“It’s a new situation, new place; everything is new for us,” Maria Popal told News 8.

The Popal family arrived in Grand Rapids in November, seeing it as their new beginning.

“For better life of our family (and) the bright future of our children, we came here,” Popal said.

Popal’s husband and their four young kids boarded a crowded evacuation flight to freedom in late August.

With the help of resettlement agencies and community advocates, they are among the roughly 400 Afghan refugees in West Michigan.

The resettlement process has come with many challenges, including the language barrier and adjusting to new cultural norms. The family expressed sincere gratitude to village of people who have supported them along the way.

The local nonprofit Treetops Collective is hosting a community event Friday to introduce refugees to their new neighbors.

“It’s an open invite to everyone who wants to form these meaningful connections with the Afghan community,” the organization’s Afghan advocate Freshta Tori Jan said.

The event also looks to help the Afghans network with employers and other professionals as many skilled refugees struggle to find work in their profession.

“They had their master’s degrees (or) they were civil engineers … all these great degrees and coming here, it doesn’t mean anything,” Jan said.

After years of providing healthcare for Afghan women in Kabul, Popal hoped to carry on her work in Grand Rapids.

“In Afghanistan, I worked as medical doctor, so I had a clinic, and every day I went to my clinic,” she said.

So far, she’s been unsuccessful in landing any healthcare job in West Michigan.

“They still have all these skills and yet they’re being pushed to start at factory-level jobs,” Jan said.

Jan is urging employers to value the refugees’ professional experience.

“It will help them get started with their new lives here,” she said. “This is now their new home, away from home.”

The Popal family has spent the week preparing traditional Afghan dishes to be served at Friday’s celebration.

Along with dinner, the family-friendly event will include games, henna stations and dancing. It is sold out, but similar events will be held in the future.

If you are interested in supporting local Afghan refugees by making a donation or through volunteer work, go to TreeTops Collective, Bethany Christian Services or Samaritas.

— Correction: A previous version of the story misspelled Popal. We regret the error, which has been fixed.