Imagine moving somewhere and not knowing how to take public transportation, what the education system is like, where your neighborhood library is or how to shop at a local supermarket. These basic …
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Imagine moving somewhere and not knowing how to take public transportation, what the education system is like, where your neighborhood library is or how to shop at a local supermarket.
These basic community assets come second nature to most Americans. But “if you come from somewhere else, you might have no idea about any of these things,” said Rachelle Trujillo, a volunteer with Jefferson Unitarian Church.
Jefferson Unitarian Church, in partnership with International Rescue Committee (IRC), is hosting an event Aug. 5, for community members to learn how they can help locally-placed refugees integrate into the culture and community. The event also serves as a school supplies drive to benefit refugee youth heading back to school this fall.
“The point is to lend a helping hand to families who have been persecuted in their home country,” Trujillo said. “Having support from the community is something that can make a huge difference in their success.”
IRC is one of nine U.S. resettlement agencies that welcomes refugees to America. The Denver office, located in Lakewood, serves refugees, Special Immigrant Visa recipients, asylum-seekers and similar populations for up to five years after arrival.
The group’s mission is “to help people whose lives and livelihoods have been shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and regain control of their future,” said Jennifer Wilson, executive director of IRC Denver.
A nonprofit, IRC helps refugees transition and thrive in the USA. Its programs include family stabilization, economic empowerment, digital literacy, health coordination and psychosocial support, among others.
Where the local community comes in, Wilson said, is helping the refugees “feel welcome, connected to the community and at home in their new home. These individuals extend and enhance what we do.”
After a while, she said, “refugees often refer to these community members as their American family.”
Since about 1980, more than 60,000 refugees have come to the Denver-metro area. About 100 have come to Jefferson County in the past two years, Wilson said. They come from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Ukraine, Somalia, Cuba and Iraq.
“Refugees bring so much. They enrich us economically and socially,” Wilson said. “They come here with the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. They want to live in peace, give their children a good education, own a home, have a career.”
Trujillo learned of IRC a while ago and became interested in getting more involved with the organization a couple months ago, she said, when a group of volunteers from Jefferson Unitarian Church put together home kits — cooking utensils, bathroom items, cleaning supplies — for new refugee arrivals.
“I was really inspired and wanted to take it step further,” she said.
This event will help spread the word about IRC’s needs and the challenges refugees face, and give everybody an opportunity to get involved, Trujillo said.
“We have refugees here” in Jeffco, Trujillo said. “By supporting them, we can help them become a part of our community and contributing members of our society.”
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