Refugee Empowerment Project unites community to help refugees

For a family of refugees that have never had access to electricity, purchasing and installing appliances without any background could be a shocking experience.

The Refugee Empowerment Project, a program run through ASU's school of social work, works with ethnic community-based organizations (ECBOs) that assist refugee resettlement. The program helps ECBOs to become stronger so they can help newly arriving refugees, social work associate professor David Androff said. 

Androff is a co-investigator of the refugee empowerment program, along with the Office of Global Social Work Director Barbara Klimek.

The project works with nine different grassroots organizations all over Arizona and has been operating for four years, Androff said.

“The project is well-respected on the state level and among the refugees," Androff said. "Barbara Klimek is a big part of that."

The refugee empowerment project at ASU is funded by the Arizona Office of Refugee Resettlement, Androff said. The project is an example of a university and community partnership where ASU’s reputation and resources are making an impact in refugee communities in areas where the states and other social service providers aren’t able to do so.

The program works with communities and teaches entrepreneurship to help refugees start their own businesses.

Androff said the program encourages entrepreneurship to avoid unemployment because jobs in the U.S. differ from what refugees may be used to.

A consortium called the New American Community shares solutions between the different refugee communities, Androff said. They host semi-regular forums for the communities to meet and discuss issues that affect individuals and the entire community alike.

Androff said the New American Community's name is significant.

"It reframes how we think about this group of people," Androff said.

Some students from the School of Social Work apply for internships with the Refugee Empowerment Program and other resettlement organizations. They coordinate and lead events as well as deliver technical assistance.

“ASU is an extremely active university with resettling refugees,” ASU alumna Joanne Morales, director of refugee programs at Catholic Charities Community Services, said.

Social work graduate student Winell Dixon is an intern at Catholic Charities Community Services, and said she is developing a child welfare orientation program that will explain welfare laws and teach parents how to keep children safe in a new environment.

“It’s amazing to meet the families at orientation, then follow them through experiences like getting their first jobs, and see how they develop,” Dixon said.

Liz Reynolds, social work graduate student and intern at Catholic Charities Community Services, said she is developing a health orientation program and teaching readiness training, which includes budgeting and finance.

“We get to see them grow and succeed in just a few months,” she said.

The process shows the people involved how much potential the refugees have and how many skills they bring with them, Reynolds said.

“I think resiliency is the perfect word to describe refugees,” she said.

Related Links:

ASU student finds success after fleeing Iraq

ASU students experience living like Syrian refugees


Reach the reporter at pscottha@asu.edu or follow @sgt_preston on Twitter.

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