From her farmhouse in Pittsford, Ellen Smith shows off a room full of donated dishware, all of for people who’ve risked everything to move to the U.S. It’s a reflection of how devoted she is to the cause. Six years ago, Ellen volunteered to help an Afghan resettle in the U.S. Since then she’s built up a group of 300 volunteers. Keeping Our Promise Rochester has a singular mission: help the Afghan, Iraqi and Kurdish men and women who helped the U.S. and are now targeted by the Taliban and Isil.
“We made a promise to these people in Iraq and Afghanistan who helped our military, who helped USAid, who helped the Army Corps of Engineers, who worked in our embassies, who were the cooks and the cleaners at the bases, that if they helped us, we would keep them safe,” she says.
300 people have been helped by Keeping Our Promise Rochester. They include 110 families. All of them left their homeland under the Special Immigrant Visa Program. Keeping Our Promise Rochester greets them at the airport, then offers care and support as they settle into their new life. It helps with everything from food to furniture, housing to jobs. It even has a car grant program that provides them with vehicles so they can get to work.
“Rochester is a very welcoming community and a very healing community,” Ellen says. “I think people when they come here, they see the very best of America here in Rochester.”
Ellen’s home serves as an informal headquarters. Donated items fill her porch and her office is now given over to the cause. The work is all-consuming. “It’s a 24 hour job when you’re called on a Thursday and a family of five is arriving on Monday and you need to find housing. I mean, you can’t say no. You can’t.”
Keeping Our Promise Rochester is the only program in the country that starts from the time of visa application to arrival in the U.S. It’s a process that can take years. “These families are doing quite well,” Ellen says. “They are proud to call themselves Americans and I’m proud that I got to help them become American citizens.”
Ellen Smith proves every day how beautiful a promise is, once kept.

Keeping Our Promise Rochester relies on the generosity of the community to carry out its mission. For more on a major fundraiser this March, click here.
For more information about Keeping Our Promise Rochester, click here.