OK, y'all. Let's talk integration.
Since we started our work two years ago, we've received 97 refugees from 7 countries, and our community has given them the very best welcome. But now, 55 of those refugees have been here an entire year. So what comes next? What happens after the welcome? What does it look like for our refugee families to fully integrate into our community in Northwest Arkansas?
We're still figuring that out, but here's what we've learned so far:
Effective integration happens in two directions
As a resettlement agency, we need to make sure our refugee families are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to integrate into the community, but we also need to make sure our community is equipped to create spaces for refugees (and other newcomers) to fit into.
It seems like a lot of the time, the focus in integration is on the newcomers and what they must learn in order to find their place in the community. We forget that the community also needs to be equipped and connected in order to effectively receive and integrate newcomers. But think about it. If our community is equally engaged in the vision of integrating newcomers, the burden of integration can be shared: newcomers will seek to find their place in our community while our community seeks to create a place for newcomers. We at Canopy NWA want to facilitate both of those things. We want to be a resource both for our refugee neighbors and for our long-time residents.
That's why we're really excited about a new project we're launching in cooperation with the Northwest Arkansas Council, thanks to a grant from Tyson Foods. In September, we're going to be launching a monthly community orientation workshop series that will bring newcomers into the same space as service providers from across the region to help newcomers learn how to navigate the systems and resources available in our community-- and help service providers get connected to newcomers. The cool part is that thanks to this grant, we'll be able to open these workshops up to all newcomers in our community-- not just refugees.
This is a part of a much bigger initiative that the Council is leading to make Northwest Arkansas a more welcoming region for refugees, immigrants and other newcomers (Listen to this Ozarks At Large story to learn more about it). We're excited to get to be a part of this! Stay tuned for a workshop calendar in August and for updates from the first workshop in September.