A Reflection on Year 1

from the desk of Emily Crane Linn, Resettlement Director

It is incredible to realize that it has been a full year since we received the news that Northwest Arkansas would be recognized as an official refugee resettlement site through the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. I remember being awed at the time at how quickly everything had moved. Canopy NWA had been a mere idea only 9 months prior… but somehow in that time, thanks to our community’s passion, hard work and sheer determination, we managed to submit a strong proposal to the State Department and they selected us as a resettlement site.  Even now, one year later, I’m still amazed by it.

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But I’m even more amazed by all we’ve accomplished since then. Let’s review, shall we? In Year 1, we:

              -resettled 55 individuals from 5 countries: Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, El Salvador, Burma and Cameroon

              -helped all those families find work and become self-sufficient within 90 days

              -held over 50 community outreach events to answer people’s questions, tell stories and spread our passion through our community

              -raised over $90,000 to make our work possible

And we did all this thanks to the hard work of our 500 registered volunteers and co-sponsors…. What a year!

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As a staff, we have learned a lot. A year ago, we were excited and rearing to go… and fairly clueless about how to actually go about turning refugees into Arkansans. Our case manager Francisco said it best on the night of December 14 as we drove to the airport to pick up our first family:

“Basically, we do not know what we are doing… but we are ready.”

Anyone on our staff will tell you that we had some pretty bumpy moments this first year. With no institutional memory to draw from and no handbook to follow, we mostly had to learn by trial and error. We learned how to best conduct our intake interviews by first learning how not to conduct our intake interviews. We learned how to teach cultural orientation by first learning how not to teach cultural orientation. We learned how to clearly communicate expectations only after dealing with disappointed clients whose expectations were not met. It was hard. But with each family, our policies have gotten stronger, our systems smoother, our files more organized, our communication clearer. One year later, I can say that while I am sure we will continue to encounter new situations that will require us to tweak our processes or create new policies, I am confident that we are ready for whatever may come because we stand on a strong foundation.   

I want to thank our co-sponsors and volunteers who graciously walked up this steep learning curve with us: thank you for being patient when you asked us questions we didn’t have answers to, thank you for being flexible when we changed our plans and policies midstream (and then changed them again… and again), thank you for being brave enough to sign up for programs that had never been tried before and for staying positive through setbacks, complications and miscommunications.

I also want to thank my incredible staff for putting in the sweat (literally…we move a lot of furniture), tears (maybe that was just me?) and long hours necessary to get this project off the ground. Rick, our employment specialist has built our employment program from the ground up: he’s come a long way towards developing a job readiness curriculum to help our clients get ready to enter the workforce, he’s developed strong relationships with employers in a variety of fields who are always willing to give our clients a try, and he’s patiently walked with each of our clients through the ups and downs of the job search process until each of them has found their way into a job that works for them.

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Francisco, our case manager, has consistently gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure our families are safe, comfortable and healthy. At times, this has involved some tasks not listed on his job description, such as capturing and disposing of a snake, spending the night in the ER and being urinated upon by a toddler. But he has been unwavering in his dedication and love toward our clients and that has made all the difference for them.

Lauren, our community outreach coordinator, has also shown herself willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, including getting up at 5 am to be interviewed on Bella Vista Community TV, spending an entire day talking to 6th graders and giving up her weekends to train co-sponsors. Thanks to her hard work, we’ve been able to share our hearts with hundreds (if not thousands) of people in our community from all kinds of backgrounds. Miranda, our new volunteer coordinator, came on board at the very end of our first year, but in her first month, she has already helped us make a lot of progress toward evaluating our volunteer programs so that we can build on them and make them better in this second year.

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This first year truly has been a community effort—and it has been truly worthwhile.

If there is one big lesson I have learned this year, it is that Canopy’s work not only benefits the refugees we welcome; it benefits all of Northwest Arkansas. I have come to see that we do not just serve refugees; we serve our whole community. In the process of receiving refugees, we are also providing our businesses with good workers, our schools with good students, our churches with new ministry opportunities and our neighbors with new friends from countries they might not ever get to visit. One year in, I believe in our work more than ever. At a time when everything seems to want to divide us, refugee resettlement is bringing us together. It’s forcing us to solve problems we’ve long needed to solve and it’s making us collaborate with people we might not otherwise talk to. Through our joint efforts, we are not only saving precious lives; we are making our community stronger, more united and more creative. And when I say “we,” I don’t mean the five of us on staff at Canopy; I mean all of us. I mean you.

Thank you. Here’s to Year 2.

 

 

 

Refugee Resettlement is Under Attack. Give Today

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President Trump has just announced that no more than 45,000 refugees will be admitted to the US this coming year. 

That's the lowest admissions number our country has seen in nearly 40 years. Since 1980, every president-- Republican and Democrat alike-- has maintained a ceiling of at least 67,000

But today, in the midst of the greatest refugee crisis in history, with over 23 million people needing immediate refuge, the United States has just announced that it is stepping back. This is devastating to us. Our hearts break for the thousands who could have found safety and new beginnings on our shores but who instead are being left in peril. 

We don't know yet what impact this will have on our work here in Northwest Arkansas... But we do know this: Our work is more important now than ever before. Our country seems to be questioning whether or not refugee resettlement is worth it.

Let's let Northwest Arkansas show them why it is. 

If you believe refugees make our community-- and our country-- better, then please support our work today. As our government pulls back, we need our community to lean in. Give a gift so that we can continue welcoming refugees home.

Help us reach our goal of $20,000!

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Thanks to all of you who have given and to all those who attended the Refugee Benefit Dinner Saturday night, we have raised $18,400 toward our fall fundraising goal! That means that we only have $1,600 to go-- but we only have until Sunday, October 1 to get there.

If you haven't given yet, would you consider doing so? These are difficult and uncertain times for refugee resettlement across our country, but here in Northwest Arkansas, our community is making a difference, changing the world one refugee family at a time. 

If you believe that refugees make our community better, help us welcome them by making a gift today! If just 16 of you were to give a $100 one-time gift, we would meet our fundraising goal for this month. Can't give $100? How about $10? If you set up a recurring monthly gift of $10, your giving will really add up by the end of the year-- without denting your budget too badly. 

Go to www.canopynwa.org/donate to make your gift today! 

Join us in our fall fundraiser!

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On October 1, Canopy will officially turn one year old! That's amazing. We have done so much together as a community, in our first year, to bring Canopy to where it is today.


Together, as a community we have:

  • Given 54 refugees a home and a new beginning in Northwest Arkansas

  • Helped all our refugee families become financially self-sufficient within 90-days of arrival

  • Raised over $90,000 to make Canopy’s work possible

  • Held over 50 community outreach meetings and events in your schools, churches, businesses and community gatherings.

  • Registered 500 of you as volunteers so that you can help our newest arrivals with transportation, childcare, homework help and cultural integration

  • Formed 23 co-sponsor teams from a wide variety of faith communities (from Mormons, to Muslims to Baptists to Universalists) and service organizations

What a year it has been for us!

As we look ahead to the coming year, we are planning to grow in a few significant ways. First, we are planning to welcome nearly double the number of refugees we did this year, with a target of 100 arrivals. Second, we are going to work on some major expansions to our employment program: we’re going to finish and publish a curriculum for our job readiness class, develop partnerships with organizations offering job training programs (such as CAN and CDL training) and expand our network of employers so that our clients have a wide range of initial job opportunities available to them. And lastly, we are going to work on building up our volunteer programs, making sure that you all have the resources, training and support you need to give our refugees your very best.


To do all this in Year 2, we will need to raise $106,000 from you, our community. That’s a big number, but we know that we can all get there together! To help us start out strong, we are asking you to help us raise $20,000 by October 1. There are a couple ways that you can do this:

    1) Buy a ticket to Canopy’s Refugee Benefit Dinner, September 23. Tickets start at $100 a person and all the proceeds go directly to us. They’re selling quickly, so get yours before they’re gone!

    2) Give a one-time gift. Think about it: all we need are 400 of our Facebook followers to give $50 so that we can meet our goal. Why can’t you be one of those people?

    3) Give a monthly recurring gift. If you can’t give $50 right now, sign up to give $5 a month. That will come out to $60 over the course of this next year. It will make a big difference toward our goal and you will barely miss it.

    4) Ask your company to match your gift. Many large employers in the area like to give to causes their employees care about. Talk to your supervisor and see if you can double your giving just like that!

    5) Like and share our posts! We’re going to need you to help us get the word out if we’re going to reach our goal together!

   

Sign Our Petition!

Canopy NWA and AUCC will be meeting with Senator Tom Cotton's office this month to ask him to remove his support of the RAISE Act. We would like to present him with a petition signed by Arkansans across the state to let him know his constituents do NOT agree with this proposed immigration bill that seeks to cap refugee resettlement at 50,000 and cut legal immigration in half.

We believe that this piece of legislation runs counter to our values as Americans and as Arkansans. We agree with Senator Cotton that our immigration system is in dire need of reform, but these reforms will hit our community where it hurts most: in our economy, in our families and in our churches.

For more of our thoughts on why we disagree with this proposed bill, scroll down to see our previous update. 

Sign our petition HERE!

Joint Statement by Canopy NWA and Arkansas United Community Coalition in response to the RAISE Act

We at Canopy NWA and Arkansas United Community Coalition (AUCC) strongly oppose the RAISE Act, sponsored by one of our Arkansas senators, Tom Cotton. This proposed piece of legislation would hurt our region’s economic development, separate Arkansas families and close our doors to the world’s most vulnerable. It does not reflect our shared values as Americans or as Arkansans, and as his constituents, we are calling on him to withdraw his support for this bill.

This legislation looks to cut all immigration in half, place a permanent cap on refugee arrivals, destroy the family reunification visa program and favor wealthier, higher skilled immigrants over the diligent, working class people who form the backbone of our nation’s economy today. Senator Cotton must realize that what he is proposing will directly hurt his region and his state—our state.

First of all, the RAISE Act would permanently cap the number of refugees the US could protect each year at 50,000. In the midst of the greatest refugee crisis of our time—over 65 million people are currently displaced worldwide—this number is far too low. Our country has always been the global leader in welcoming and caring for refugees. Now is not the time to cede our leadership and turn our backs on our world's most vulnerable. Additionally, placing a legal limit on annual refugee arrivals takes away authority and flexibility from the executive branch to respond to changing global pressures.

Most importantly however, reducing the number of refugees directly impedes the good work of hundreds of Senator Cotton’s constituents. Over 500 Northwest Arkansans have signed up to volunteer with refugees through Canopy NWA. 15 area churches have formed refugee co-sponsorship teams to welcome and mentor newly-arrived refugee families. The RAISE Act would permanently reduce the number of refugees our community is able to serve at a time when our community has shown an eagerness to welcome and empower our world’s most vulnerable.

Second, this bill would destroy the family reunification visa program in favor of a “merit-based” program. This would directly impact thousands of Arkansas families who have worked hard and waited years for their turn to apply for their family members.

And finally, this bill will have an immediate impact on Northwest Arkansas’ economy. A recent study by Engage NWA found that immigrants accounted for 42 percent of our region’s economic growth from 2009 to 2014. This boom has benefited all of us: for instance, our housing values increased by $759 million in that time. In 2014 alone, immigrants contributed $3.1 million to our region’s GDP and $131 million in state and local taxes. Making up 15 percent of our labor force, immigrants helped created and preserve over 2,500 manufacturing jobs in the last 5 years—but these types of industrious, working class people are the kinds of immigrants that this bill seeks to keep out. Immigrants have helped our region, and by extension our state, to prosper. We do not understand why Senator Cotton would propose a bill that would jeopardize all that.

This piece of legislation runs counter to our values as Americans and as Arkansans. We agree with Senator Cotton that our immigration system is in dire need of reform, but these reforms will hit our community where it hurts most: in our economy, in our families and in our churches.

Both of our organizations are asking for meetings with the senator during the August recess to discuss legislative actions we would like to see him take toward meaningful immigration reform.

We urge our neighbors in Arkansas to call Senator Cotton’s office and express their opposition for this bill:

Please call Senator Cotton at his Springdale office: (479) 751-0879 OR at his Washington D.C. office: (202) 224-2353 and state…

My name is “YOUR NAME” and I am calling from “YOUR CITY”. Please tell the Senator that I am profoundly disappointed in his sponsorship of the misguided and counterproductive Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act (RAISE Act). It is deeply un-American to shut the door to refugees and immigrants. Please ask him to remove his sponsorship of the bill.

 

 

 

Arkansas United Community Coalition (Arkansas United, AUCC) is an Arkansas, immigrant rights nonprofit based in Springdale that is dedicated to empowering immigrants and their communities through leadership development, coalition building, the promotion of civic engagement, immigration service navigation and building welcoming communities. Founded in 2010, AUCC boasts a network of over 200 immigrant organizers and over 400 active volunteers in 17 communities across Arkansas. AUCC currently maintains immigrant resource centers with partners in Springdale, Fort Smith, Little Rock, DeQueen, McGehee, Monticello and Jonesboro.  For additional information, please visit www.arkansascoalition.org or call 479-871-2168.