General Updates

Welcome Rick Barry to Canopy NWA!

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The Canopy Team is Growing!

As of this week, we have two new faces in the office: Francisco Ayala, our Case Manager and Rick Barry, our Employment Specialist. This week, we want to introduce you to Rick. Up until a couple days ago, he worked for the Department of Human Services in Benton County as an eligibility specialist for the SNAP program. In his interview with Canopy, he said he enjoyed being able to help people, but he felt he was pretty limited in what he could do. His caseload was so large that all he could do was interview people, input their information into the system and move on. He wanted to be able to have a more lasting impact on people’s lives. 

That’s why the employment specialist position got him so excited. He saw this as an opportunity to provide people with perhaps the most impactful assistance possible: a job. Since starting work on Monday, he’s wasted no time: he’s already building a list of potential employers to contact, developing informational materials to share with these employers and working his way through a long list of online courses to get him up to speed on the refugee resettlement program. 

We thought we’d give him the chance to introduce himself a little bit:

Hello everyone,

My name is Rick Barry and I am very excited to be joining Canopy NWA as Employment Specialist.  While I am new to refugee resettlement, I have several years of experience working in the public and nonprofit sectors.  My educational background is in Political Science and Philosophy, so Canopy will provide a fantastic opportunity to utilize all of my work and educational experience.

Much like those we will be working with here at Canopy, I am not a native of Arkansas, so I look forward to helping newcomers get acclimated and find quality employment.  With that said, one of the easiest ways that you can help or volunteer is by referring businesses, big or small, that would like to give Arkansas' newest families a step toward self-sufficiency.

I look forward to meeting all of you!

Rick

You can contact Rick at rick.barry@canopynwa.org

Canopy NWA is Hiring

Exciting news, friends—we are hiring! We are currently looking for TWO passionate, diligent individuals to join our team this fall.

1) Case Manager.

This person will be working face-to-face, one-on-one with refugees every day. They will be the person most directly helping refugees to build a new life here. They will need to have some multi-cultural experience, as they will be interacting daily with people from varying backgrounds. They will need to be detail-oriented, as this job involves extensive documentation and report-writing. And they will need to have a demonstrated love for the people they will be serving. This position will be part-time for the first 5-6 months until enough refugees have arrived to give them a full case load. If this sounds like you, please click the button below, then send your resume and cover letter to Emily.linn@canopynwa.org by September 26.

Case Manager Job Description

 

2) Employment Specialist.

This person will be responsible for the biggest and most challenging aspect of resettlement: helping our clients gain employment and achieve self-sufficiency. The Employment Specialist will need to network and develop relationships with a wide variety of employers across the region, develop a job-training curriculum to prepare refugees for the workforce, identify potential certificate programs that might be useful to qualifying refugees, assist refugees with finding a job once they arrive and follow-up after the job placement to ensure everything is running smoothly. Someone with extensive connections to local businesses and a strong understanding of the current employment market is preferred. This position will be full-time. If this sounds like you or someone you know, please click the button below, then send your resume and cover letter to Emily.linn@canopynwa.org by September 26.

Employment Specialist Job Description

Meet Canopy's New Executive Director!

Emily
Emily

As Canopy continues to move forward toward resettling refugees in the fall, the board decided to take the important step of selecting our resettlement director: Emily Crane Linn. As director, Emily will be in charge of laying the foundation for our new programs, hiring and training staff and then overseeing the resettlement process once we are up and running. We figured the best way for you to get to know her was for her to introduce herself… So here she is:

Dear friends of Canopy,

I am so excited to lead the charge in our collective efforts to build a refugee resettlement site here in Northwest Arkansas! I have been a part of this movement since the very beginning, back when we thought it would be two or three years before we would see refugees arrive. It’s been thrilling to watch things progress so quickly! The pace has left me a little breathless, but I am cognizant of the fact that we are all making history together, that we are doing something that has never been done before in Arkansas, that we are going to be able to directly aid hundreds of people—and that is truly energizing.

I am new to refugee resettlement. My background in this field dates back to January when Canopy first began gathering steam. I am a journalist by trade. I have worked mostly in the Middle East, covering Egypt and Tunisia in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. I’ve told the stories of Palestinian refugees stuck in perpetual limbo in Egypt, of Egyptians facing persecution from their own state and contemplating the risks of seeking asylum in Turkey, of Tunisian fishermen rescuing refugees from capsized boats at sea. Each of these stories deeply affected me and left me wishing I could do more to help.

So when the position of Resettlement Director opened up, my heart was immediately drawn in. This was my chance to help the sorts of people whose stories I had been telling. How could I pass that by? So here I am :)

We have a huge task ahead of us. We are attempting to build a refugee resettlement program from scratch in a state where resettlement is practically nonexistent. This is not a job I can do alone. But it will be my honor to lead the way as we all work to make Northwest Arkansas into a place of safety, welcome and new beginnings for our world’s most vulnerable.

All the best,

Emily

You can contact Emily at emily.linn@canopynwa.org

Meeting Reminder and Volunteer Sign-Up

Thank you to all of you who came out to our meeting last Monday.

It was great to see so many new faces! For the rest of you, we hope to see you this coming Monday, July 18, at 7 pm. at First Presbyterian Church in Bentonville. If this is your first Canopy meeting, please join us at 6:30 for a quick introduction and orientation to get you up to speed. Also, we’ve heard rumors that there could be pie… Just in case you were on the fence. And while we’ve got your attention, we’d like to invite you to check out our new volunteer page. There are a lot of roles that we will need to fill in the coming weeks and months as we prepare for refugees to arrive, so please take a look and see if anything jumps out at you. If it does, let us know in our volunteer sign up form.

We’ll talk a little bit more about these roles at our meeting on Monday, so be sure to come and bring all of your questions.

We look forward to seeing you there!

A Meeting with the Governor

By Clint Schnekloth, Acting Director

Two weeks ago, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson came to Good Shepherd Lutheran to meet with with Canopy NWA. His visit was an honor and a surprise. We were surprised he wanted to meet with the organization personally. We were honored that he took the time, and asked such great and open questions.

It makes you a bit nervous to host the governor. We got pie (he liked the apple), and made sure all the wall-hangings were on straight in our conference room.

This entire week, we'd been conducting a comprehensive community consultation. It's something Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service does when it is considering opening a new refugee resettlement site. James Horan, Vice President of Refugee and Community Service from Lutheran Family Service of the Rocky Mountains flew out to serve as consultant. It was particularly helpful to hear from him and spend time driving around our region discussing refugee resettlement, because he has some direct experience opening new sites comparable in size to the one we are considering in our region.

We spent some of our time talking with local and state politicians. In addition to the governor, we met with our congressman, Steve Womack, and local representatives like Bart Hester. We know they are ones likely to get calls on politically-charged topics like refugee resettlement, so our conversations with them were both courtesy calls to provide information and space for them to ask questions about our work. We were surprised, however, to encounter such great support from these elected officials. Invariably, they graciously said, "Let us know how we can help." Even those whose political position runs counter in some ways to the advocacy work of LIRS still expressed support both for immigration and regional refugee resettlement. I came to the conclusion sitting down at the table with these political leaders that I should schedule even more such face-to-face meetings. It's worth the time, and you find more points of commonality.

Perhaps it's not so surprising. Many of our faith traditions tell us to welcome the refugee, and in spite of political party, all the elected leaders here in Arkansas are committed people of faith. We share a sense that welcoming refugees is faithful, and the right thing to do.After the political meetings, we headed to other organizations we believe will be instrumental in providing the quality, long welcome we intend to offer for arriving refugees. We toured a portion of the Northwest Arkansas Community College campus, and learned about their robust adult education and ESL offerings.

We also spoke with their department for nursing and medical sciences. That department can't get as many students as they need, and all their students are employed before they even complete the program, the need is so great for medical professionals in Northwest Arkansas.

In fact, this was something we heard repeatedly in all our conversations. Employers are desperate for employees. Unemployment is at 2.1% in our region. Not only are many of the larger companies looking for talent they can draw to the region, they're also seeking more entry-level and unskilled workers in a variety of areas, the largest being, of course, work in the poultry industry.

We met with Mireya Reith, executive director at the Arkansas United Community Coalition and the Immigrant Resource Center. She helped give us a picture of the current advocacy needs for immigrants in Arkansas. Mireya is a long-time political advocate specializing in engaging marginalized communities, and is a wealth of information, passionate about her work. She also was recently elected chair of the state board of education. Spend time with her, and you begin to see how the Latinx community in Northwest Arkansas is already, and is going to be increasingly, a force for good in our community.

We visited with Mike Malone, CEO and executive director at the Northwest Arkansas Council.  The council is the brain child of some of the Fortune 500 companies located in NWA--Walmart, Tyson, and J.B. Hunt. They've worked on major projects in our region like the airport and widening the interstate. Now, they're focused especially on diversity and workforce development. They're committed to sustaining and improving Northwest Arkansas as a great place to live and conduct business. They serve as a catalyst and collaborator for finding solutions to the opportunities and challenges facing this thriving region.

We met with Ed Clifford, CEO of the Jones Trust. He was incredibly warm and supportive. In addition to the community center, which is the most obvious public face of the Jones Foundation (it houses a swimming pool, ice skating ring, gym, and many classrooms and meetings spaces--while we met there yesterday it was hosting the War Eagle day camp), they also have the JTL Shop, a Center for Nonprofits which houses about 80 of the 400 NGOs in Northwest Arkansas. This includes the Community Clinic, a free clinic that many of our arriving refugees will make use of for health services. Ed estimates there are 12,000 Marshallese living in Springdale. Add this to the very large Latino population, and you realize how different the Springdale of the 20th century was to the Springdale of the 21st. And again, what all these leaders remark on is the way such diversity has strengthened and contributed to the vitality of the region.

We met with Perry Webb at the Springdale Chamber of Commerce (over the course of our two community consultation weeks we also met with Steve Clarke of the Fayetteville Chamber, and three mayors in the region).Through these conversations I came to a greater awareness of the strategy in place to facilitate Northwest Arkansas thinking regionally rather than individually by town. We are now one economic and cultural corridor, 525,000 people who make up Northwest Arkansas. And since we're growing (perhaps as many as 40 people per day move to NWA, and Fayetteville anticipates 30% growth by 2030), everyone is aware we need to think intentionally about regional development.

Other past consults have included ESL instructors in the I-40 corridor (NWACC, NTI, public schools, Springer Center, and Ozark Literacy Council), missions pastors at Fellowship Mission Center, public school administrators, Lindsay property developers, public transit officials, Walmart, Tyson, Engage NWA, the Cisneros Center, Community Clinic, dozens of community faith leaders, the Walton Family Foundation (we even had lunch with Lynn Walton), and more.

What's the value of a comprehensive community consultation like this?

Our understanding of the assets and needs of Northwest Arkansas has deepened tremendously because of these conversations. We now have an intimate and face-to-face sense of what motivates our community leaders. If you are thinking about community development and what can be planted in your little corner of a great big world, in the process of planting such ministry you will inevitably impact key stakeholders in the region. So it's good to know them by name, and for them to know you.

In a world continually divided by partisanship, people are desperate for stories of real coalition building, and so another great benefit of such community wide consultation is simple: it plants hope. Not only has this work increased the possibility of collaborative work between NGOs around shared purpose, it is also building collaborative bridges between churches and faith communities that often function in more silo fashion.

When I think about how all this has come together, I get goose bumps. We feel God living and active in our Canopy development work. I feel blessed not only to be part of such an amazing organization, and to work with such a diverse and talented set of volunteers who serve on our board and write our grants and conduct interviews and design web sites and more--I also feel blessed as a pastor to be able to gain an even better picture of our region, so the preaching and pastoral work I do each week can be better informed by the needs and perspectives of our community and region.

Next stops for the community consultation: I'm going to try and meet with Tom Cotton and John Boozman, our senators; drive to Little Rock to take our state refugee coordinator out for lunch; attend a service at the Islamic Center; gather a University of Arkansas symposium; get back to actual walking the neighborhood so I can meet landlords for potential apartments for refugees. In the process, might also just meet potential new congregational members!

Six Months In

  Canopy NWA first convened six months ago-- back before we were Canopy NWA, back when we were still just a group of Arkansans searching for a way to help refugees. At our first little meeting in December, we thought it might be years before we would see refugees land in Arkansas... Most of us thought we were laying groundwork for others to build on after us. We contacted Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services, one of 9 licensed resettlement agencies in the US, to let them know of our intentions, expecting them to tell us to buckle in for a long process. To our surprise, they told us that they actually had an immediate need for new resettlement sites and that our region sounded promising and could we submit an application by the middle of May?

And so, just like that, we found ourselves with 2 months to do what he had planned to do in years. We reached out to dozens of churches from a wide range of denominations, to our region's biggest employers, to our local government, to our schools, our hospitals and our nonprofits and we began weaving a broad network of support for Canopy NWA. In the midst of this, we had a site visit from LIRS: a jam-packed week of meetings with and LIRS representative and key stakeholders in the region, in which we had to convince everyone that bringing refugees to Northwest Arkansas was a good idea. And in the end, we did-- because it is a good idea. Our meetings that week only served to cement that for us.

And so Canopy submitted a proposal to the State Department in May to become an affiliate office of LIRS and resettle refugees in Northwest Arkansas. We'll find out in the next few weeks if our proposal has been accepted... And if it is, we'll be rushing forward, full speed ahead! We've been told we could receive our first refugees as early as November. Before then, we'll need to hire two full-time staff members, find money to pay them (you can totally help with that, by the way), set up an office and recruit a list of committed co-sponsors to help us welcome the refugees when they arrive. We'll have our work cut out for us...

So now is the time-- now more than ever-- for you to get involved. Check out our TAKE ACTION page for a full list of volunteer jobs, but below are three ideas:

1) Assemble a refugee co-sponsor group at your congregation, club, or neighborhood. To do that, first download the co-sponsorship handbook: (a) for churches; (b) for organizations. Then, read through the co-sponsor covenant, sign it, and return it to Canopy. You can send all signed covenants to Emily Linn at emilyscrane@gmail.com. You can also contact her with any questions you have about the process!

2) Participate in advocacy efforts or donate. These are honestly some of the most important ways you can support this work. Email your congressman, email the governor, get your church fired up, take time to engage with your friends and family about this issue.

3) Join us for the next general meeting of Canopy. Because Canopy is now developing as a regional initiative, we will host general meetings two Mondays in a row. Pick the one that is most convenient for you!

  • On July 11th, join us at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville.
  • On July 18th, join us at First Presbyterian Church of Bentonville

If this is your first Canopy meeting, we invite you to join us at 6:30 p.m. for a new member orientation. We'll provide you with some backstory on how we got started and what we've been doing. Everyone else, please come at 7 p.m. We'll give you a general informational update on the flurry of activity at Canopy over the last month and then we'll give you more details on how you can participate in next steps.