By MARNIE McALLISTER
Record Assistant Editor
Catholic Charities of Louisville, which aids hundreds of refugees each year, is hoping to engage more parishes and schools in its work through a new initiative called Parishes Organized to Welcome Refugees (POWR).
About two dozen parishes and schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville already help the agency minister to refugees. With the help of a $32,000 grant from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the agency hopes to involve 25 more by the end of the year.
“Some parishes and schools, we already have a strong relationship with,” said Christopher Clements, a Catholic Charities employee who helps refugees settle here. “For those already involved, we want to take it to the next level. And we’re starting to create new partnerships.”
Clements said the agency expects to resettle about 800 refugees by the end of this year, mostly from Nepal, Burma, Sudan, Eritrea, Cuba and Iraq. About 300 to 350 are expected to arrive during the summer.
Catholic Charities will find homes for them, administer financial assistance programs, enroll them in its English language school and help them find jobs.
But the charity relies on volunteers to help the refugees find jobs; learn to navigate the city; adjust to the culture; furnish
their apartments; and offer enrichment to refugee children, among other things.
Clements hopes this new initiative will help parishes and schools find ways they can help. He said there are three ways this program seeks to engage volunteers.
First, Catholic Charities is hoping some parishes will assign a volunteer to act as an employment coordinator — someone who can help find jobs for refugees through their contacts at the parish.
“The employment piece is the most critical piece” of this initiative, said Clements. “The refugees have to go to work in six months or less, whether they have the language skills or cultural skills. We’re trying to open up new resources for potential jobs.”
In addition, he hopes that volunteers in parishes may act as mentors to job-seekers, some of whom lack the skills even to fill in applications. Parishes also could offer job fairs, he noted.
The second piece of this initiative aims to help students and families learn more about refugees and their lives.
Catholic Charities offers immersion experiences that can help young people to understand the plight of refugees. They include the mock refugee camp, which several schools have used, and an airport immersion program. In both exercises, students (and parish volunteers who help run the program) learn firsthand about the process refugees experience when they leave their homes.
The agency also frequently brings people who have come here as refugees to speak to students at schools. School groups, sports teams and other organizations are invited to volunteer in a variety of other ways — by helping to offer holiday events, assisting with childcare at the English school (known as the ESL school) and collecting items for families who come here with few possessions.
A Girl Scout Troop from St. Aloysius Church in Pewee Valley, Ky., volunteered at the agency’s annual Easter party this year and two weeks ago, they delivered items they had collected to a family from Bhutan.
Clements said St. Aloysius “is just starting to get involved.”
“They’re going to come back this summer to work in the ESL school with the children,” he noted. “This group seems to be really engaged. They’re going to be true partners.”
The final piece of Catholic Charities’ new initiative is an effort to match teenagers in high school with teenage refugees.
Clements said Assumption High School, which is already active in outreach to refugees, plans to begin an ambassador program in the fall.
Teenagers who come here as refugees “don’t have a lot of friends,” said Clements.
“This will help them find friends and learn about Louisville. We don’t have a lot of time for that” among the staff of Catholic Charities, he noted.
Clements said it will also help American teenagers to learn about other cultures and languages.
“We tend to hang out with people who are like us,” he said. “This can open our hearts to see we are all people in the world. No matter where we’re from, we can offer friendship.”