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Photographer collects donations to give to Team Rubicon for Afghan refugees in Indiana

"I will load everything up in the truck and just take it to wherever they tell us to." An Indianapolis woman gathers donations to hand over to Team Rubicon, who is helping with Afghan resettlement at Camp Atterbury.
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Posted at 7:45 PM, Sep 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-07 20:00:42-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Over Labor Day Weekend, a local photographer took action and began collecting donations for refugees from Afghanistan resettling in Indiana. She wasn't quite sure where to start, but she knew the community around her had a lot to give.

Ayren Certa, 27, heard about the Afghan evacuees going to Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh on Thursday and made a call-out on Instagram for monetary and material donations by Friday.

"I didn't know how it was going to work. I tried calling the camp, they didn't know what they were going to need, they didn't know how they were going to accept items, but I decided to just put it together anyway, because I'd rather have it and then not need it than like, not have it and need it," Certa said.

With a pretty good local following on Instagram, it didn't take long for the donations to start piling up on Certa's Venmo account and doorstep.

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Indianapolis photographer Ayren Certa started gathering donations for Afghanistan refugees at Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh over Labor Day Weekend. Photo taken Sept. 7, 2021.

By Tuesday afternoon, Certa had about $800 raised and a front porch full of diapers, hygiene products and more.

"It's heartbreaking," Certa said.

"I'm tired of just sitting and watching the terrible things happen on the news. I'd rather just be out there trying to impact the world positively in some way or another if possible."

With the donations gathered, Certa will be giving them to veteran-led disaster response organization "Team Rubicon."

Team Rubicon is managing donated goods and setting up logistics for collection efforts at seven locations for Afghan resettlement across the country, including Camp Atterbury.

The offer for help from Hoosiers across the state has been overwhelming, Michael Martel, Team Rubicon's Operations Associate spearheading the donation operation at Camp Atterbury, told WRTV.

Camp Atterbury approved to house Afghan evacuees
FILE -- The Secretary of Defense approved Camp Atterbury in Indiana as a site to temporarily house Afghan evacuees in support of Operation Allies Welcome Aug. 31, 2021. The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for up to 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan personnel essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. (Photo by National Guard Sgt. Joshua Syberg)
Task Force Atterbury
Bunk beds in barracks at Camp Atterbury in Indiana, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Living facilities at Camp Atterbury, near Edinburgh, will temporarily house Afghan evacuees as part of Operation Allies Welcome. Hoosiers will host the Afghans at Camp Atterbury as they begin their safe resettlement to the United States. (Indiana National Guard photo by Sgt. Tackora Farrington, released)

MORE | A look inside Camp Atterbury where Afghan evacuees are staying | Support coming to Camp Atterbury before Afghan evacuees arrive |

"It's not even just the products coming in, it's the willingness for people to help, in Indiana, has been amazing, truly amazing," Martel said.

"Churches from every denomination," he continued. Martel says all churches asked, "'Hey, what do they need? How can we help? How can we help them?' It's truly good to see communities come together for the same purpose and help."

Team Rubicon, Martel said, largely helps people through natural disasters. The organization was founded in 2010 following the Haiti earthquake with just eight members. It now has almost 150,000 volunteers made up of veterans, first responders and trained civilians.

Resettlement efforts are not necessarily Team Rubicon's "forte," Martel explained, but the organization felt they had an opportunity to get involved in a big way.

"We've never done anything like this on this scale," Martel explained.

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Team Rubicon at work in Nashville, Tennessee after a tornado struck the area.

Learn more about Team Rubicon

His team, all primarily working remote still due to the pandemic, started to ask "What can we do that's not being done?" And donation management was the answer.

"We stepped in and said, 'let's figure it out, let's make it happen and provide a level of service that they deserve,'" Martel said.

Martel said he wants to show the Afghan evacuees what America is about and that the American Dream is very much still alive and well for everyone.

"The American Dream isn't just for born Americans. It's for everybody who wants the American dream, right? How can we make that happen? How can we give people the ability to get a running start, instead of just, you know, taking people out of there?" Martel said.

"You know, it's not an easy thing to give everything up," he continued. "You know, jump on a plane and end up somewhere they have no idea where they're at, with maybe their shirt on their back and starting a new life. It's not an easy thing. And so being able to help with that process and introduce them to what America is. You know, we're all, the vast majority of us, are immigrants one way or another, whether it's generations or not. We all started this way, at some point."

Team Rubicon is willing to collect items from churches and peers in the community.

Team Rubicon is also accepting volunteers. Martel says he recommends everyone volunteer with an organization at some point.

"Give it a shot," he said. "Find a cause that matters to you and see what happens."

Here's a list of needs Team Rubicon is collecting for Afghan refugees:

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WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at shakkira.harris@wrtv.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.