Chris Cambises, the Refugee Youth Program Supervisor, and Brenda Ogershok, the Youth Mentor Coordinator, share their stories of making refugee youth feel welcome in their new homes.
In the Refugee Youth Program (RYP), we welcome refugee youth by providing them with comprehensive services to assist with their social integration into life in the United States. This centers on intensive case management and includes connecting youth to community resources and extracurricular activities, mentoring, and civic engagement.
For Chris Cambises, one story especially sticks out from the past year. "We were returning to Dallas from Arlington after attending a Texas Rangers baseball game with one of our groups of youth. We were driving into downtown when a 17 year old Rohingya Burmese boy who had been otherwise sitting quietly in the passenger seat, perked up suddenly, pointed at one of the interstate signs that read “Dallas” and happily exclaimed, “Dallas! Dallas! My home!”
That simple moment was representative of so much of the work that RST does. Many of our youth, particularly the older ones, struggle with coming to terms with their changing identities. Are they Iraqi/Burmese/Somali, or are they American? Are they something in between? Where is home and what does home look like now? We can’t answer these questions for them, but we can work to provide them with a sense of place and a sense of acceptance that is rooted to their current home.
renda, the Youth Mentor Coordinator, sees the program as essential to RST's full-service status. "All of the clients really want to contribute, to give back to the society that took them in and make themselves useful; parents especially feel this need, because all they really want is to make life better for their kids, so that their kids can succeed in their new country."
Youth are able to adapt more quickly than their parents, because it’s easier for them to learn English, and because they’re in school, they can make friends easily. Part of providing services to youth is providing to the entire family. When the kids are doing well and are happy, it takes some stress off of the parents. They don’t have to worry about how their kids are faring, and can focus on their own progress.
RYP's programming includes getting the kids out into Dallas, seeing their city, seeing its diversity. It helps them feel less isolated, and more like they belong. Community volunteers help welcome kids by providing activities for the youth. SMU volunteers teach the girls in the program a dance class every month, volunteers run a soccer program every week, and volunteers from Nike lead fitness classes weekly. Often you see a big change in the kids’ physical health--they stand up a little straighter, sometimes they even lose weight--you can tell that they feel more confident in themselves, and the exercise makes them happier.
Community is essential to helping refugee youth integrate into a new culture. As the saying goes, it takes a village. This North Texas Giving Day, you can show refugee youth that you welcome them to the North Texas neighborhood by sharing their story and helping support our essential services.
Visit our profile at https://northtexasgivingday.org/npo/refugee-services-of-texas to learn more about how you can help, and check out Chris' favorite recipe for welcoming new neighbors!