Why we need a Long Welcome

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Meet Zawadi.

She’s brilliant and brave. She arrived here in Northwest Arkansas 30 days ago, a single mom of 8, and she instantly stole our hearts. She radiates positivity, she’s fearless—and did we mention she’s incredibly smart? She’s soaked up English like a sponge and is already able to carry on basic conversations. She’s mastered our complicated public transportation system. She’s breezing through Job Club like it’s no big deal—even though she’s never had a formal job before. Before we know it, she’ll be able to get to and from the grocery store on her own, she’ll be dropping her kids off at daycare and then going to work, paying her own bills, and building a new life for herself and her family. She’s on track to get there by 90 days—which is good, because that’s how much time we have with her.

But what happens after that? There is so much more to life than being able to buy groceries, take your kids to and from daycare and go to work. How does Zawadi make those long-lasting friendships that sustain the rest of us? What does she do when one of her kids tells her he wants to go to college? How about when their family is ready to buy a car? There is so much more to life than what we can teach and give Zawadi in 90 days.  

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Then there’s Asim.

He’s young, ambitious and diligent. He has a high school diploma from his home country of Afghanistan, and he knows the sky is the limit for him here in America. His 90th day was this week. In the last three months, he too has wowed us with how fast he’s picked up English and how quickly he’s learned to navigate our community. He recently started working at Walmart as an overnight stocker so that he can continue to go to English class during the day while still helping to provide for his family. Somehow in the midst of all that, he managed to get his driver’s license two weeks ago. He’s checked all the boxes for where he and his family should be by 90 days and then some. He’s employed, self-sufficient, able to meet his basic needs on his own.

But that’s not enough for Asim. He didn’t come to America to stock shelves at Walmart. He has bold ambitions of going to mechanic school, getting his mechanic’s license and maybe running his own business one day. His dad wants to start a farm here. His younger siblings want to go to college. He’s hungry to make friends, to have a full social life again like he did before he had to flee his country. But at day 92, all those dreams are still so very far away.

Our vision is for refugees and our community to model thriving together.

That’s what we want for Zawadi and for Asim. We want them to thrive. And if that is truly our goal, then our work is really only just beginning. Resettlement is just the first step; it’s the Long Welcome that comes after where true, lasting change happens.

Over the last 5 months, we’ve been asking our refugee clients to help us define and map out what Long Welcome means for them. We asked them to tell us what it means for them to “thrive” here—and what obstacles currently stand in their way. We got the chance to hear from men, women and youth, from Congolese, Ukrainians, Iraqis and Cameroonians.

Now, we’ve taken what they taught us and we’ve run it past our co-sponsors, volunteers and community partners for their perspective, we’ve compared it to the latest research findings in the field of refugee and immigrant integration and we’ve worked with consultants to help us distill all our findings into a clear, coherent blueprint: our Long Welcome Plan.

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And friends… the time has finally come to share it with y’all.

We’re so excited. Mark your calendars for April 30th—the last day of our spring Community of Welcome fundraiser. We figured: what better way to wrap up this incredible month of community building than to unveil our exciting, bold Long Welcome Plan with our community? It’s ambitious, it’s challenging, and we’ll admit, it’s a little bit intimidating. But we know that in collaboration with you all, our Community of Welcome, we can make it happen.

So check back here April 30th for our most exciting update yet!

Or… if you can’t wait that long, sign up to join our Community of Welcome. In addition to all kinds of other perks, we’ll be giving our Community of Welcome members an exclusive sneak peak of this exciting new plan a full week earlier than everyone else. If you love the work we do, you believe in the idea of Long Welcome and you like being the first to know things, then help us reach our goal of 140 Community of Welcome members this month and sign up today.

 

   

 

The Receiving End of Welcome

A note from our director

Last Saturday was one of the most special, remarkable days of my life.

I left my house to go to what I was told was going to be a university function—and ended up walking into a crowd of singing, cheering Congolese, Kenyan and Rwandan women, who smothered me with hugs and kisses. They had been up before the sun, cooking up a feast and decorating a church sanctuary to honor me and my unborn daughter. (Yes, in case you missed my not-so-subtle bump in our live videos last week, I am nearly 8 months pregnant).


It’s a hard experience to put into words… I felt so cherished, so supported, so… well, welcomed.

As I prepare to embark on the journey of motherhood, I feel all the feelings you might expect. I feel excited, but anxious—downright scared at times. My mind is a constant buzz of questions. I don’t know this new road I’m traveling down and the place it’s leading me will be utterly foreign. Am I prepared? Will I be OK? Will there be anyone to help me when I arrive?

Last Saturday was my airport pickup. I stepped through those doors, vulnerable and unsure, and into the arms of a community of welcome. They celebrated my arrival with shouts and ululations and singing. They held me as I cried. They spoke words of strength and encouragement to me. They welcomed me in.

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Friends, a Community of Welcome is a powerful thing. It has the power to move someone from vulnerability to security, from aloneness to family. It is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Each of those women on their own could have visited me to wish me well and bring me food and that would have certainly encouraged me. But by coming together and surrounding me, they gave me something to belong to. And that changed everything for me.

That’s what we have the power to do together. Each of us on our own can be welcoming and generous and kind. But collectively, we can be a Community for our newcomers. We can be a circle of safety and support and kinship. That is what we are seeking to create here in Northwest Arkansas. That is what a Community of Welcome means to us.

As we get ready to take on the challenge of building a Long Welcome for refugees in Northwest Arkansas, a strong, unified Canopy Community is more crucial than ever. We’d love for you to be a part of it in whatever way is right for you (check out all the options on our Get Involved page. There are more now than ever!).

But this month in particular, we are inviting you to consider joining our Community of Welcome program, our innermost group of supporters. As a Community of Welcome member, you commit to supporting us financially every month, and we bring you in to our innermost circle. You’re the first to know the ups and downs of our work, you’re right there with us at our intimate gatherings and you get first access to our events and celebrations. Put another way, our Community of Welcome is the circle of women shouting, singing and hugging newcomers as they walk through the door.

If that sounds like you, consider joining today.  We’d love to have you.

Building a Community of Welcome

We were so excited to share our vision with y’all last week for this next chapter in Canopy’s story: To see refugees and our community thrive together. That’s what’s next for us on our ambitious mission. We don’t want to merely get our refugee families on their feet here —we want them to thrive here, and we want to see our whole community thrive with them.

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In order to do that, we are going to have to grow—a lot. Currently, our services are almost entirely limited to our families’ first 90-180 days in the country. That’s it. But our vision is for refugees to thrive here and we know we can’t expect to see that happen if we’re only serving them for 90-180 days.

That’s why, over the next 3-5 years, we are committing to rolling out a series of programs and services that will ensure our refugee families have the assistance they need for up to 5 full years after arrival.

After months of listening to our refugee clients, partners and volunteers, it’s clear we have a lot of work ahead of us in order to make this vision a reality. And it’s going to take all of us. If we are going to grow our programming so significantly, we are going to need to grow our support. We are going to need more volunteers, more co-sponsors, more partners and more donors.

That’s where you come in. We’d like to invite you to be a part of this next stage of growth by joining our new Community of Welcome.

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Community of Welcome members will give:

  • A recurring monthly gift of $25 or more— up to whatever they can afford

Community of Welcome members will get:

  • A new t-shirt annually

  • First dibs on event tickets including our Refugee Benefit Dinner that has sold out every year!

  • Tickets to exclusive events like our Canopy Family Picnic and Holiday Party.

  • A sneak peek at our email updates so you can be the first to know what we’re up to!


Want in? Well then, mark your calendars! We will be officially launching this program on April 4th in conjunction with NWA Gives Day.

We currently have 39 incredible donors who are already giving monthly gifts of $25 a month or more. If you’re one of them, THANK YOU for your support and welcome to the Community of Welcome! You’ll be automatically enrolled in the program on April 4th and will become immediately eligible for all the perks that come with it.

If you aren’t yet supporting us monthly, this is your time to start! We are looking for 140 of our neighbors to join our Community of Welcome this spring so that we can get started implementing our new vision and Long Welcome plan right away-- and we are going to get started with a bang on NWA Gives Day!

It’s going to be fun. We’ll have lots of exciting giveaways throughout the day—everything from Arsaga’s coffee to Samuel Gray Art prints to a signed copy of Alan Gratz’ book Refugee. We’ll be live on Facebook and Instagram throughout the day to keep you all posted on our progress toward our goal. You’ll get to hear from our staff, our director, our board members and maybe even some of our clients. So be sure to tune in—and jump in—April 4th!

We’ll see you then!

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Thriving Together

What does it look like for our community in Northwest Arkansas to extend a Long Welcome to refugees?

We’ve spent over four months hearing from our refugee families and volunteers, researching best practices from around the country and strategizing with our community partners, seeking to answer that exact question.

And we’re excited to say we finally feel we have a vision for what that looks like. It’s ambitious, it’s creative, it’s courageous. It’s a vision for the sort of story we feel could only really come about in a place like Northwest Arkansas.

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Our vision is for refugees and our community to model thriving together.

Long Welcome means our community makes space for refugees to participate, belong and lead, and in turn, refugees become full, contributing members of our community. It means refugees work together with long-time residents to make our community a better place to live—for students, entrepreneurs, single mothers, those experiencing homelessness, and yes, for refugees too. It means refugees understand and appreciate our community’s values and add their rich and diverse cultural heritages to them. It means one’s success is intrinsically tied to the other’s.

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It means thriving together.

We’ve already seen this happening. We’ve seen that when our community invites refugees to play on their soccer teams, they lead them to victory. We’ve seen that when we advocate for better medical transportation for refugees receiving Medicaid, Medicaid transportation improves for everyone. When our community makes space for refugees to belong and lead, our whole community is better off as a result.

We know this vision of thriving together can become our story. We also know it’s a high target. It’s going to take all of us and it’s going to take a lot from us. But that was true three years ago too, when nearly a hundred of us crammed into the Fellowship Hall at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on a sunny January morning to figure out how we could start a refugee resettlement agency in Northwest Arkansas. If we’ve learned anything from the last three years, it’s that the things that take the most from us a community are the most worthwhile.

Over the next two months, we’ll continue to work with our clients and community partners to put together a clear action plan for moving this vision forward over the next 3-5 years and we cannot wait to share it with you all. For now, what we know is that there will be lots of exciting changes coming and LOTS for you all to do.

So what do y’all say? Are you in?

Community

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Community.

This word just keeps coming up again and again. As many of y’all know, we’ve been going through a strategic planning process over the last four months, mapping out our Long Welcome Plan for refugees.  We’ve conducted hours of interviews and focus groups, researched best practices from across the country, and worked with consultants to develop a Theory of Change and analyze our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (a “SWOT Analysis” for those experts reading this). And through it all, we keep finding that word. Community.

It’s in our mission statement, it’s in our origin story, it’s a strength, a weakness, an opportunity and a threat all at once. We can’t seem to discuss a single objective or strategy without talking about our community, how we need you, how you affect us, how we impact each other. Community, community, community.

It’s clearly core to who we are—and who we will become. We’re really excited to start unveiling our Long Welcome strategy with you all in the next few weeks (watch this space for some exciting announcements!). But here’s one thing we can tell you all right now: There is no way to carry any of it out without deep involvement from y’all, our Community, at every step of the process.    

With all that in mind, we’ve got an exciting new opportunity coming your way in the next few weeks—April 4th to be precise. We aren’t going to give any more details just yet, but mark your calendars. Watch this space. Get excited.

Why refugee resettlement is worth fighting for

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When we started the grueling groundwork of launching a resettlement site here in Northwest Arkansas three years ago, we did so because we believed we had something special to offer refugees in our community. What we didn’t yet know was just how much they had to offer us. Today, here is what we see:

Northwest Arkansas is an excellent home for refugees— and refugees are excellent for Northwest Arkansas.

Our diverse communities of faith surround our refugee families with unwavering love and support… And in turn, our refugee families bring their diverse perspectives, beliefs and practices to our faith communities and offer them the chance to collaborate with each other across denominational and religious boundaries.

Our many world-class employers offer our refugee clients good jobs with living wages… And in turn, our refugee clients meet huge and growing needs in our workforce, from the poultry industry to healthcare to shipping and logistics.

Our service providers come together and wrap around our refugee families to ensure all their basic needs are met… And then our refugee families turn right around do the same for the next ones in line, volunteering as interpreters for the very service providers who welcomed them, organizing fundraisers to support future refugee arrivals and serving as community liaisons and cultural navigators.

Our thriving arts and culture scene offers our refugee families concerts, plays, bike trails and meals that make their lives full and vibrant… And in turn, our refugee families bring colors, sounds, tastes and rhythms that we wouldn’t otherwise find in Northwest Arkansas.

Refugees challenge us to be the very best we can be as a community, all while making us better just by their presence here.

That’s why we ask you to speak up for refugees every chance you get: with your neighbors, your family members, your church members and your elected representatives. That’s why we’re taking an incredible group of pastors, veterans, teachers and service providers to Washington DC this month to share their stories in person with our elected officials. That’s why refugee resettlement is worth fighting for.