Helping refugees in a rapidly-changing environmentBy Jenna Ovett
Georgia is one of the nation's most populous states, and becomes home to refugees—people forced to flee their countries to escape war or persecution—at a rate proportionate to its size, welcoming 2,500 to 3,000 annually. According to the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies (CRSA), when immigrant and refugees are welcomed to their new communities, they generate customers for existing local businesses, create jobs by starting new businesses, and add to a thriving economy, benefitting us all. In the 2013 program year, the members of the CRSA assisted 2,247 refugees in obtaining jobs in Georgia. Collectively, this translates annually to $1.7 million in sales tax revenue, more than $337,000 in property tax revenue, state unemployment insurance contributions of more than $752,000, and FICA contributions of more than $6.1 million.
So how is the changing political climate affecting the capacity of Georgia’s refugee-serving nonprofits, and their ability to help new arrivals contribute to the state economy? In order to find out, we spoke with five different refugee-serving organizations in Georgia in the wake of the President’s recent executive order on immigration, which effectively put a temporary halt to refugees coming in from seven countries. (Though a hold was put on the order by the courts, the administration has pledged to either appeal the decision, or reissue the order on more solid legal footing.) These five GCN member voices:
1. Amy Crownover, Marketing and Communications Director at New American Pathways (New AP) - New AP ensures that, from the moment of their arrival and throughout their journey to citizenship, new Americans contribute their special skills and talents to strengthen the American workforce and help Georgia thrive.
2. Deborah Hakes, Director of Communications at Welcoming America - Based in Decatur, Welcoming America leads a movement of communities to become stronger and more prosperous, by helping immigrants and refugees fully participate in local economic, social, and civic opportunities.
3. Kalie Lasiter, Development Coordinator at International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Atlanta - The mission of the IRC in Atlanta is to create opportunities for refugees and immigrants to integrate and thrive in Georgia communities.
4. Amy Pelissero, Head of School at Global Village Project (GVP) - GVP is a very unique school: one of only two schools in the nation completely devoted to serving refugee students, and the only school dedicated to serving refugee girls specifically. GVP empowers refugee girls to imagine new paths for their lives and pursue the dreams that have led them.
5. Tara Hall, Executive Director at Refugee Women’s Network (RWN) - RWN works to inspire and equip women survivors of war to become leaders in their homes, businesses and communities.
Though this uncertainty has sown fear among refugee and immigrant populations and their allies, community supporters say they are even more determined to make those affected feel safe and secure.
While these organizations stand together, they agree that they are embarking on uncertain times with a number of shared challenges—including the imminent threat of being disallowed to assist refugees, immigrants, and other clients displaced from their homes find a life free from harm, where they have the opportunity to thrive. Though this uncertainty has sown fear among refugee and immigrant populations and their allies, community supporters say they are even more determined to make those affected feel safe and secure. Along with an outpouring of support, these nonprofits have been inundated with questions and concerns. Altogether, the situation has strengthened the consensus among these nonprofits to increase advocacy efforts in order to express the needs of refugees, and the need to fight discrimination, to our local and national policymakers.
Below, our members discuss the unique ways this political disruption has affected each of them, and how you can get involved to further their work during this difficult time.
What are your biggest challenges right now?
Amy Crownover, New American Pathways: The number of refugees allowed to resettle in America is set by the President for the fiscal year, which began October 1. The ceiling for this year was originally set at 110,000, but the executive order reduces it to 50,000 – the lowest it has ever been. Once we hit 50,000 in the coming weeks, it will be a struggle for all resettlement organizations to retain talent through the fiscal year without new arrivals.
Deborah Hakes, Welcoming America: We are supporting our member communities—which represent every part of the political spectrum and are located across the country—and their individual needs in an incredibly uncertain and unpredictable time. Although the national winds are shifting away from welcoming for the moment, on the local level, the conditions that have led our movement to grow over the last several years have not changed.
We are committed to working together to ensure we live up to our proud history of providing safe refuge for the world’s most vulnerable.
Kalie Lasiter, International Rescue Committee: The refugee families we serve are expressing genuine fear they may never again see the remaining members of their families caught in limbo overseas. Now, more than ever, we are committed to working together to ensure we live up to our proud history of providing safe refuge for the world’s most vulnerable.
Amy Pelissero, Global Village Project: Our organization is funded mostly through private donations from individuals and foundations. Our students’ families pay no tuition; lunch and transportation are also provided free of charge. Our biggest challenge is to continue to fund full scholarships for all of our students.
Tara Hall, Refugee Women’s Network: As a result of the current political climate, potential funders have become hesitant to fund an organization that serves refugees. Additionally, as demand for our services continues to increase with our growing clientele, we have outgrown our current location and require additional internal support. Those concerns, along with uncertainty in federal funding, mean that we are planning for a future full of unknowns.
What are your goals over the next 30 to 60 days?
Crownover: Our goal is to weather the storm and focus on services that go beyond 180 days, like our vocational services and civic engagement program—we are unique in that we serve people all the way through citizenship and beyond, with an emphasis on long-term success and integration into new communities. We will also continue our efforts to educate the public about who refugees really are, and how the vetting process works.
Our goal is to weather the storm and focus on services that go beyond 180 days, like our vocational services and civic engagement program.
Hakes: We are redoubling our efforts to support communities in the Welcoming America network, and beyond, promoting the establishment of more inclusive climates, as well as policies and programs that ensure everyone can reach their full potential. We are providing focused support to communities experiencing rapid growth in immigrant and refugee populations, building understanding with long-time residents and finding common cause to create connected communities that work for everyone.
Lasiter: Over the coming months, staff at the International Rescue Committee in Atlanta will work proactively and diligently to ensure that the refugee, asylee, and immigrant populations already granted sanctuary in the metro Atlanta region continue to receive robust, high-quality, and vital services, and to become self-sufficient, productive, and welcomed community members. We have increased our fundraising goals and community outreach efforts in order to offset the imminent cut in critical government funding to our organization.
Pelissero: In the coming months we will focus on student recruitment for next school year, the development of new social and emotional learning assessments, and fundraising and financial sustainability. At Global Village Project, we stand in solidarity with our refugee students, their families, and the wider refugee community and pledge to continue our service to the refugee young women who come to our school seeking safety, security, community, and an excellent education.
Hall: We are working to establish a volunteer program in response to the recent increase in inquiries about getting involved. We are also ramping up our advocacy efforts to share the stories of the resilient, hopeful women we serve, and dispel the myths circulating about refugees. Above all, we pride ourselves on our role as a safe haven for survivors of war and torture, and we will continue to maintain our high standards of service even as demand increases.
What can people do to get involved and support your mission?
Crownover: On March 7, the CRSA will be hosting it's annual New American Celebration at the state capitol building. In an effort to make this event as impactful as possible, we are asking for 3 things— your presence at the capitol on March 7th, your voice to legislators expressing support for maintaining Georgia as a welcoming state for refugees, and financial support so we can continue to serve refugees during this time.
Hakes: Welcoming America will host our second annual Welcoming Interactive April 19-21 in Atlanta, and we encourage individuals, nonprofits, and business owners to register. At the Interactive, you will learn how you can strengthen inclusion in your community through sessions that introduce welcoming work; explore the intersection of racism, bias, and immigration; explain how to hold a community dialogue; and much more. Each of us can make a difference!
Lasiter: The greatest contribution you can make at this time is a financial donation to support our families, and ensure that the International Rescue Committee in Atlanta has the capacity to withstand this attack on the vulnerable.If you want to go further, please let us know any idea you have for increasing our visibility and fundraising efforts.
Pelissero: We depend on donations to support our school and students. The best way to help is to sign up as a monthly recurring donor. Please also follow us on your social media accounts and help us spread the word about our school. Global Village Project will host our final Authors’ Tea of the school year on Friday, April 14, a quarterly program planned and produced by our students and teachers. We invite all to come and learn more about what we do and celebrate our students’ accomplishments.
Hall: Given our current space constraints, Refugee Women’s Network is currently fundraising to secure a larger resource center that will accommodate the increasing number of workshop attendees and donated items. In the meantime, our supporters are hosting informational and fundraising events on our behalf, which are great opportunities for those who want to educate their friends and family about the challenges facing refugees in their communities.
Overwhelmed with today’s needs, and anticipating that the demand and the challenge will continue to grow, these GCN members all say they are looking for individuals to volunteer in their communities any way they can. They also encourage people to call their national and local representatives to share support for refugees and opinions about our responsibility to welcome them and make sure they find success in their new homes.
*Photo credits: Top— Welcoming America, an international fashion show during Welcoming Week in 2015. Photo taken by Domonique Neukomm; Middle—International Rescue Committee, a recent Welcoming Rally at Hartsfield-Jackson airport. Photo taken by Artem Nazarov; Bottom—Global Viallge Project, students at Agnes Scott College campus.
Jenna Ovett is the Communications Coordinator at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.