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Local refugee center hosts summer literacy program, looks for volunteers

The West Michigan Refugee and Cultural Center invites community members to volunteer during its annual Summer Literacy Program, happening from June 27 to August 12, 2016.

/Courtesy of the West Michigan Refugee Education and Cultural Center

Underwriting support from:

/Courtesy of the West Michigan Refugee Education and Cultural Center

/Courtesy of the West Michigan Refugee Education and Cultural Center

What is a refugee exactly? How can I help refugees in my community? What are practical ways I can get involved? I want to contribute to this growing need in my community, but it seems so overwhelming and I don’t know where to start! What can I do?

If you have been asking yourself any of these questions, you’re not alone. Over the last decade in particular, the city of Grand Rapids has been flooded with refugees from various countries all over the world. As the refugee crisis overseas has increased, Grand Rapids has opened its doors, rising as one of the top cities in the country to welcome and resettle refugees.

Increasingly more people are realizing that their new neighbors, co-workers, church members and friends are people with a story to tell - voices which narrate history-in-the-making, voices of wisdom and voices of completely different realities across the globe. These voices have endured incredible hardship and screenings and have traveled a long way to find safety.

Along with possessing a story, a refugee also holds a strong desire for community. They need families and individuals to come along side to partner with them as they transition into a new and very different life here in the United States. Refugees need to feel equipped with the practical knowledge and tools necessary to survive, adapt and thrive in the United States, while still holding true to their cultural background and rich heritage. Refugee parents desire that their children receive the care and education necessary for them to lead successful lives in this new country they will call home.

Fadumo Abdi said, “Education is the future for my children. I want them to be able to grow up and take care of themselves. Education is the key to my children’s future; it is the key to my future too.”

So how can I help someone like Abdi and her family?

West Michigan Refugee Educational and Cultural Center (WMRECC) is a non-profit organization which works directly with the refugee families of the Grand Rapids and Kentwood community.

WMRECC’s mission is to support refugee children and families to gain the necessary skills for seamless and successful integration into the community by providing comprehensive educational support and youth development services, along with fostering cultural knowledge and understanding.

The objective is to empower refugee families to succeed in school and in life, to support refugee children to finish school and become self-sufficient, to provide refugee families a place to socialize to foster a lasting sense of community and to foster leadership development in the refugee community.

How does West Michigan Refugee Educational and Cultural Center accomplish this objective?

WMRECC supports their mission through three main programs: after-school tutoring, which includes homework services, a reading program, and referral services; school impact, which encompasses school liaison services, educator workshops, peer support, and parent workshops and summer programming, which incorporates a literacy program, field trips and leadership training.

How can I help now?

This summer 2016, WMRECC is running their annual Summer Literacy Program. This program reaches out to over 65 incoming refugee children, all new arrivals to the state of Michigan. The literacy program gives these students the opportunity to practice beginner English conversation, reading and skills needed for entering the American school system in the fall. The summer program relies heavily on volunteers to help run the program, acting as teachers, tutors and mentors. The seven-week program runs in the mornings, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday each week, from June 27 to August 12, 2016.

Alioune Diouf, one of WMRECC’s volunteer shares, “The center is a happy place for the children, where they can be free to express themselves without holding anything back. It feels good to know that they can relate to us adults and that we can help them overcome any cultural barriers or issues while being academically successful.”

You don’t have to be a teacher. You don’t have to speak another language. You don’t have to have experience working with kids. You are required, however, to have an eager heart, a listening ear and a desire to learn.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, donating, or getting involved in any capacity at West Michigan Refugee Education and Cultural Center, please contact [email protected].

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