Several groups of women sit huddled around fold-out tables at the Ladera Palms Apartment Clubhouse in Fort Worth, Texas. They are whispering amongst each other, asking questions, laughing and smiling at one another in between a presentation on dental hygiene. These women have made the treacherous journey to the United States as refugees. They are from Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, and Eritrea. They speak multiple languages and are now in the process of learning English with the help of Refugee Services of Texas’ (RST) ESL classes.
The holiday season is a time of giving. As we gather around with our friends and family we reflect on our own blessings, and feel compelled by gratitude to give back.
RST works hard everyday to serve clients and empower them to thrive in their new Texas homes. This holiday season, you can join RST in serving refugees and other displaced people. We need your support to continue doing the work we love, so we can better serve our truly remarkable clients. There are many ways to give the gift of hope to give this holiday season all of which will go toward improving and stabilizing the lives of our clients.
As we end gather around the last month of the new year, RST wants to #ShineALight on refugees, and we need your help. Over the past month, we have shined lights on programs and clients at RST, such as Women’s Future, Raghad, The Unaccompanied Children’s Program, and RST artists. Now we are asking you, to help us shine a light on refugees and other displaced people.
"I chose RST for my internship because I fervently believe in the dignity, agency and sanctity of each human life." say Demi Gnerlich, Refugee Services of Texas' (RST) Bachelors in Social Work (BSW) Resettlement Intern.
"Our country is in such a turbulent and terrifying limbo, and for a lot of people that means pleading and fighting for their inherent human rights. I could go to the [Texas] Capitol and sign petitions and vote all I wanted, but it wasn’t the same as being face to face with the populations going through these struggles. I wanted to walk alongside each family to serve as a catalyst for their own empowerment."
Demi is currently studying to get her Bachelors in Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. Her program requires her to take an internship with an organization to give her "real world" experience in her chosen field. She chose RST.
In the first week or so of starting at RST's Austin office, Demi was still learning the ropes —names, positions, and that there's free coffee in the downstairs office— when the previous RST Austin Volunteer Coordinator, Lauren Rizzo (who is now an RST Austin Employer Relations Coordinator) planted the seed for an incredible idea. Lauren wanted RST to host more women’s groups, reaching out to the female clients. She gave Demi some contacts for resources in the Austin community and with that, the brainchild was put into effect. Demi started orchestrating plans to offer RST female clients consistent and much needed supplemental support.
The first Women's Group came together on November 2, 2017. It was a day long event featuring different workshops and activities geared towards female empowerment. The group went under the name "Wonder Woman's Classes."
The first presentation at the class was given by Daniel Lopez, the Community Outreach Coordinator of Capital IDEA. Capital IDEA is a non-profit that provides financial support and extensive professional guidance to motivated, non-traditional students who want increase their earnings and chances of upward mobility in their careers. Daniel explained to the participants the advantages and necessary qualifications of receiving benefits from Capitol IDEA. He also talked about the growing opportunities of IT to encourage the women in attendance to seek education in that field.
After the Capital IDEA presentation, the women were asked to come together to create a name for the group and set a steady schedule for future meetings. "Wonder Woman's Classes" was changed to "Women’s Future."
"I love this name," says Demi. "They were engaged enough to choose something that is representative of their journeys. They agreed to this name because they all loved the idea of finding hope and success in fighting for their futures and their families."
Then Demi asked the women to draw how they feel about living in a new country and the struggles that come with it. Topics of isolation and homesickness were brought up. In the end, the group of women laughed together while chatting and drawing.
"Our group activity was a classic social work icebreaker!" Demi says, "I originally made clay at home for the women to create forms of outward expressions of their internal emotional state. However, a lot of the clients we serve come from cultures where anything tangentially related to mental health support or counseling is stigmatized to be shameful. With the cultural connotations in mind I opted to dial it back by having them draw these expressions instead." Demi chose the more conventional outlet of pen to paper, she figured it would be a less intimidating and more familiar tool, and the group might be more comfortable expressing themselves this way. "I encouraged them to participate in the drawing, but they were not required to share outside of their comfort level. We had one client boldly stand up and break down her picture and correlating emotions, but the other women were not quite there yet."
Demi was inspired by her clients when coming up with this activity. "I have had quite a few clients come forward about their silent emotional struggles, and I wanted to create space for them to put that out there and build a community for support instead of the shame." said Demi.
After the group activity, Helen Schafer, the Community Health Educator from Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, gave a presentation on female anatomy, health screenings, safe sex, and safe family planning. Then the women were invited to participate in "music and mingle," which included music performed by Elaine Barber from the non-profit Symphony of Soul and food catered by Chick-fil-a.
What does Demi want to "Shine a Light" on this holiday season? "I would love to shine a light on the incredible resiliency of our clients. They are brave and beautiful and bold; they teach us and help us far more than we could ever serve them. It is a privilege to have our community grow with them as an integral part."
“The United States is the land of freedom and opportunity,” says former SIV, Raghad. “Here I know that my kids are safe.”
The announcement by the White House to cap the number of refugee arrivals at 45,000 for the 2018 fiscal year represents the lowest admissions figure for the United States in decades and puts the lives of tens of thousands of people needlessly at risk. This shameful decision is not based in fact and will also harm America and the international community.
This summer, St. Barnabas Presbyterian Church decided to take a creative approach in engaging the world’s refugee crisis and welcoming new neighbors. Associate Pastor Katy Rigler recalls seeing stories about the refugee crisis in the news, and knew that her Fellowship needed to respond. “It felt like something we should address from a point of faith. If we believe in welcoming others, we should act on that belief and get involved.” said Pastor Rigler.
Refugee Services of Texas stands with the global community in support of the thousands of people whose lives have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey this past week. The damage and heartache from this natural disaster will remain with all Texans--and all Americans--for months and years to come.
North Texas Giving Day brings nonprofits and their neighbors together for 16 hours of fundraising. Refugee Services of Texas is participating in this day by bringing its neighbors together in a celebration of all the ways they welcome. One way we help welcome our new neighbors is through community activities such as the yoga classes Fly Kids Yoga holds for RST Dallas clients!
At Refugee Services of Texas, we are dedicated to welcoming refugees, asylees and other displaced peoples. We are so proud to be able to welcome these new North Texas neighbors. We believe new neighbors are a cause for celebration. One way we like to celebrate new neighbors is through sharing culture, stories and art. Join our welcoming celebration by making a donation to Refugee Services of Texas on September 14 for North Texas Giving Day. As part of the celebration, we are sharing the stories of our neighbors.
One story that we are excited to tell is the story of two artists from Tehran. Read their story below.
Edna helps nine-year-old Ashkhan* install the tomato plant cage; seven-year-old Adiba looks on as her brother presses firmly onto the tomato cage as Edna secures it to the ground outside the children’s new home. They are among several RST clients, staff and volunteers that have gathered on a drizzly Saturday morning to ensure that a recent refugee community garden set within north Austin is maintained with care.
In recent decades, the U.S. has been a leader in offering protection to refugees. This period followed a more shameful chapter in U.S. history leading up to World War II, when hundreds of Jews were turned away by the U.S. government for resettlement and later murdered in Nazi death camps.
Hamed Hasanin was born in Damascus, Syria and then was forced to flee to Jordan before being granted resettlement in Fort Worth, TX. Though Hamed is incredibly grateful for his life now, his journey to his new home was not an easy one.
Texas Senate Bill 4, approved by the Legislature and signed by Governor Greg Abbott, is harmful, discriminatory, and dehumanizing toward all immigrants—including refugees, asylees, Special Immigrant Visa holders (SIVs), and survivors of human trafficking served by Refugee Services of Texas.
We are deeply disappointed by the Executive Order issued today by the Trump administration banning travel to the U.S. for individuals from six countries, instituting a complete stop in refugee arrivals for the next four months, and renewing a commitment to reduce refugee arrivals to the U.S. to 50,000 people.
The consistent and inappropriate conflation between refugees and terrorism is unfounded and unconscionable and represents a dark moment in the history of the United States. Refugees are fleeing violence and persecution to find a new home for their families in peace and safety.
Painting, sculpting, and self expression are methods of individual expression. As an art major at Texas Christian University, Olivia knows the importance of art in her life and wished to share it with others through her thesis project, so she decided to teach a painting class for Refugee Services of Texas clients in Fort Worth.
During the holiday season, Refugee Services of Texas aims to highlight and share the stories of some of our amazing volunteers and clients. Jessica Harvey shares how having the opportunity to welcome refugees into her community has been a Bright Blessing.
During the holiday season, Refugee Services of Texas aims to highlight and share the stories of some of our amazing volunteers and clients. Merinda is one of our bright Bright Blessings this year, and we are proud to be one of her's too!