Welcoming Refugees Home: Two Years In

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Sunday, September 30 marked the end of FY 2018, Canopy’s second full fiscal year in operation.

It’s amazing to think that we are already two years into this work! But it’s even more amazing to think about just how much we have managed to accomplish together over these last two years.

Over the last two years, we have resettled 112 refugees from 7 countries through our reception and placement program. That’s 56 families who have received housing, government assistance, access to healthcare and food here in Northwest Arkansas. That’s 57 children who have been enrolled in school and daycare. And that’s 55 adults who have gotten the chance to study English completely free of charge and who have received 400 hours of cultural orientation between them.

Through our employment program, we have taught approximately 1,200 hours of job training to newly arrived refugees and have helped 39 refugee adults find jobs. As a result, all 56 of our households have been financially self-sufficient within the first few months after arriving in the United States.

Over the past year, we launched a suite of integration programs designed to help our families continue to adjust to life in the US after their initial resettlement period is over:

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After School Buddy Program: 23 refugee children have been paired with one-on-one mentors from the University of Arkansas who meet with them once a week to work on academic tutoring, cultural orientation and relationship building. This academic year, we have even worked in an art therapy element in partnership with the wonderful folks at Art Feeds. We have seen truly wonderful results from this program. Our kids are not only doing well academically, they are becoming leaders and examples in their schools.

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Community Gardening Program: Thanks to a group of passionate volunteers, we were able to pilot a community garden in one of our apartment complexes this year. The garden brought our refugee families and their neighbors together to grow their own food and build relationships with each other.

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Immigration Legal Services: Since January, we have been working to build up the capacity to offer immigration legal services to our refugee clients. Our director and case manager have both undergone extensive training and we have collected all the necessary documents in order to apply for accreditation from the Department of Justice as a nonprofit legal service provider. Once we are approved, we will be able to help our clients apply for green cards, family reunification, and one day, citizenship— all important steps in their integration.

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Ongoing Cultural Orientation: Since September, we have begun offering monthly workshops on cultural orientation topics that are challenging for our clients and other newcomers. In these workshops, we teach attendees how to navigate important systems (public transportation, healthcare, etc.) and how to access key resources (public assistance, city government services, public education, etc.). These workshops are open to any newcomers in our community and are made possible thanks to a grant from Tyson Foods and the Northwest Arkansas Council.

But really, all of this rests on our Community Outreach Program. None of this would have happened without the partnerships we have been able to form with 350 volunteers, 10 employers, 12 faith communities and over 20 service providers. If you have sacrificed some of your precious free time to drive our clients to appointments, or given generously to support our work financially, or chosen to rent to one of our families or employ one of our clients, then we really can’t begin to thank you enough. YOU all have made this possible.

We are humbled and grateful to announce that thanks to your incredible generosity over the past year, we surpassed our fundraising goal for the year, raising nearly $160,000 in FY 2018. With all of the uncertainty that we have seen in the US refugee resettlement program, it would be expected for a small organization like ours to really struggle. But thanks to you all and your passion for this work, we are able to continue in our mission, undisturbed by the tides of politics. And we can’t begin to thank you enough for that.

Thank you for two incredible years of welcoming refugees home. The best is yet to come.

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Let's Talk Integration

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? 

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We're still figuring that out, but here's what we've learned so far:

Effective integration happens in two directions

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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.

But think about it. If our community is equally engaged in the vision of integrating newcomers, the burden of integration can be shared.

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. 

Forty-One

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We’ve got a number for you: 41.

That’s the number of new refugees who have joined us here in Northwest Arkansas since we last wrote an update in this space (in… April. Whoops). That’s 41 men, women and children in seven families who have come to call our community home in the last four months. They come from all over the world: Honduras, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ukraine. They speak half a dozen different languages between them and come from every kind of vocational background. Twenty-eight of them are kids.

Four months ago, I don’t think any of us would have seen this coming: this burst of life and hope and new beginnings. It’s been amazing. It’s been overwhelming. If you follow us on Facebook or Instagram, you’ve gotten a glimpse of what we’ve been up to, but we wanted to share some highlights here too:

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Our first refugee client is going to college! Heri graduated high school in Kenya with top grades—in Calculus, no less. And-- we kid you not--  he had barely set foot inside his new home in Fayetteville (at 11 o’clock at night) before he informed Francisco that he was going to be a civil engineer and would need to go to college. We got right on it and he is registered for classes at NWACC next month. We’re so proud and excited for him.

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On June 20th, the Masoka family slept with a proper roof over their heads for the first time in 28 years. They fled their country on a raft nearly three decades ago and have lived in a tent ever since. Mr. Masoka could scarcely believe it when his co-sponsor team from the LDS Church in Fayetteville Ward 1 handed him the keys to his apartment.  “Today […] after exactly 7962 days living as a refugee, my family and I have a key to an apartment...our home,” Mr. Masoka said.  “Tonight, for the first time since fleeing the Congo, we will be sleeping in our own beds – in our own house.”

           

Thanks to our amazing co-sponsors, all of our families have been having a blast experiencing all the best things about summer in America. They’ve been learning how to swim, trying snow cones for the first time, learning how to ride bikes, shooting off fireworks… And that’s just the stuff we have pictures of 😊

This summer has been rich, y’all. Thank you for making Northwest Arkansas such a wonderful place to call home.

P.S. If you like these kinds of updates, be sure and Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Instagram. We post this kind of stuff all the time there! But we promise we’ll do better with the updates here too.

5 reasons to become a monthly donor

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  1. Monthly gifts help us plan for the future. They give us the certainty we need to make long-term commitments, like hiring staff and signing leases. 
  2. Monthly gifts make it possible for us to keep working even when refugees aren't arriving. The only federal funds we get are attached to newly-arrived refugees. So no new refugees= no $$. But monthly gifts keep us afloat so that we can be here for the refugees who are already here, and be ready for those who have yet to come. 
  3. Monthly gifts allow you to give a really significant gift over an extended period of time. For most of us, $300 is more money than we could give at once. But if you set up a recurring monthly gift of $25, you will have given $300 within a year. That's enough to train a group of 80 co-sponsors, who in turn will change the lives of multiple refugee families. That's amazing!
  4. Monthly gifts are easy and secure. All you have to do is enter your information once and you're good to go! The gift will start drafting every month and you won't have to worry about it from there. But if you need to change the amount, the account or cancel the gift altogether, you can do that easily yourself on our online giving platform. 
  5. If you give a  recurring gift of $25 or more, we'll send you a FREE Canopy t-shirt!
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Plant a Seed

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After a long, bleak winter—8 months without a single refugee arrival— spring is slowly pushing through at Canopy NWA. Three weeks ago, we welcomed John Feruzi, Safi and Watata’s long-awaited son. Last week, we welcomed our second refugee case of the year: the Kalulu family from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Slowly, it seems the frost of the refugee bans and harsh new vetting procedures is thawing. We get to welcome brave, beautiful new neighbors once again!

Spring is a time of celebration, and we want to invite you all to join with us in the joy of seeing children enrolled in school, young men finding purpose and independence in work, families finding community and fellowship in places of worship. New life is beginning all around us; take it in with us! Rejoice with us! If you don’t already, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram, where we share the daily joys and triumphs of families starting over in our community.  

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But spring is also a time of labor and preparation. Even as we rejoice at the flowers, buds and blossoms, we get down in the dirt and we weed, fertilize and plant. Because even at the height of spring’s beauty, we know that winter will come again, and when it does, we need to be prepared. We know that if we put in a small investment now, by the time the leaves have finished falling, we will reap a harvest large enough to sustain us through the cold and dead months of winter.

So friends, as you plant your vegetable seeds, your flower bulbs and your herb stalks in your gardens all across Northwest Arkansas, we invite you to plant a seed for Canopy in the form of a recurring monthly gift. A seed can be small, maybe just $10 a month, but if you plant it now, before you know it, it will have turned into a big, sustaining investment that can keep us going in times of plenty and in times of hardship.

Right now, we have about 40 monthly donors—but we have over 800 email subscribers, nearly 2,500 Facebook followers and 600 registered volunteers. If every one of our friends and neighbors who follows our work and cheers us on were to give even just a few dollars a month, it would quickly turn into a life-changing amount. SO. Here is our ask. We ask you (yes you, who are reading this right now), who have believed in us, celebrated with us and watched us grow: join us now in our spring planting by setting up an online recurring donation. It’s easy, it takes no time at all, and once it’s set up, the gift will immediately start to grow, one month at a time.

Our goal is to get to 200 monthly donors by the end of this month—that’s 5 times our current number, so that means we really do need everyone to get involved and give what they can. We need you.

If you’ll do that for us, here is what we promise: for every new recurring gift we receive, we will plant a seed of our own and give the plant to a refugee family in our community. Also, we really mean it when we say that even small gifts make a big difference—but to encourage you to be as generous as you can, we’ll send you a Canopy t-shirt if you set up a gift of $25 or more. Just enter your t-shirt size into the notes section when you set up your gift and we’ll get one in the mail to you within a couple of weeks.

Let’s do this together. Plant a seed today—for the ones already here, the ones yet to come and for the community we are building together.

We're taking 2018 by storm!

2018 has been a whirlwind so far at Canopy! We've launched several new programs, organized some big advocacy events-- and we're really just getting started. Catch up on everything we've been doing, everything we've got coming up and how YOU can be involved:

New Programs: 

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1. Investing in Tomorrow, Financial Literacy for Tyson Team Members. In partnership with the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Credit Counseling of Arkansas, Canopy NWA has launched a pilot financial literacy class for immigrants and refugees at two Tyson plants in our area. This initial 8-week class has students from the Marshall Islands, Somalia, Mexico and El Salvador. In the absence of new refugee arrivals, we've really enjoyed the opportunity to serve a wider subset of the immigrant community! 

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2. Women's Empowerment. Our volunteer coordinator, Miranda, has assembled a rockin' team of volunteers who are set to launch a women's empowerment program for refugee women in Northwest Arkansas. This program's mission is to bring women together to support each other, learn from each other and help each other pursue their goals for their new lives in the US. We can't wait to see where this goes. If you'd like to support this initiative, email miranda.black@canopynwa.org to find out how. 

3. Ongoing Cultural Orientation and Mentorship. We're working on developing a series of monthly cultural orientation workshops to help our refugee families learn how to navigate our community's systems and resources-- even long after they've finished our reception and placement program. We'll get started in March with a workshop to help all our clients complete their tax returns :) Do you have a topic you'd like to teach that you think could be helpful to our refugee clients? Do you want to help us facilitate these workshops or assist with transportation or childcare? Great! Email miranda.black@canopynwa.org and watch Better Impact, our volunteer management portal, for opportunities to volunteer. 

Upcoming Events: 

February 20, 6-8 pm: Advocacy Training. Come to the offices of Big Brothers Big Sisters to learn about how you can be an effective advocate for refugees in this crucial moment. Space is limited, so we ask that you register in advance on Better Impact. 

February 24,  4 pm: Refugee Night at Artists' Laboratory Theater. Come hear performances by and about refugees and learn more about the work Canopy does. Donations and tips will go toward our big trip to Washington DC. 

March 2, 7-8:30 pm: Movie Night Fundraiser at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Bring your whole family and join us in watching the award-winning film Coco. There will be a $10 suggested donation for admission to help us raise funds for our big trip to Washington DC-- all you can eat popcorn included.  

March 4, 5-8 pm: Kitchen Takeover at MOD in Bentonville. NWA Emerging Leaders and Modern Ozark Dining are teaming up to offer an incredible meal, inspired by Congolese refugees and benefiting Canopy NWA. You'll have the opportunity to taste Congolese cuisine, hear from some Congolese refugees and support the work that we do. Tickets are available now but they're going fast! Buy yours today. 

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March 15-16: Trip to Washington DC! Canopy NWA is taking a group of 20 people from our community to Washington DC to meet with our representatives. This group will include refugees, co-sponsors, community members (some as young as 12), college students, pastors and businessmen, all eager to share their stories with our leaders on Capitol Hill. Many of these participants need to raise funds in order to make this trip possible-- so please consider giving to help them along their way, and/or attend the other fundraising events we are holding this month. 

As you can see, we are giving 2018 everything we've got! We're pushing our representatives to bring our refugee families home, we're expanding our services to reach more members of our community and we're creating new programs to allow us to serve our refugee families in new ways. None of this work is funded by the federal government-- it's only possible thanks to contributions from people just like you. To help us keep all this going, please consider giving a gift today!