By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Individuals from around the country wishing to learn how to better welcome and serve refugees toured the Catholic Charities Office of Migration and Refugee Services offices on West Market Street June 18.
Members of the group of 27 were participants in the Welcoming America conference which drew more than 300 people and took place in Louisville June 18-20.
Welcoming America is a non-profit organization based in Decatur, Ga., whose mission is to support cities across the country seeking to “become more inclusive toward immigrants and all residents,” according to its website.
Colin Triplett, director of Migration and Refugee Services, lead the group on a tour of the facilities including the child care rooms, the cafeteria and the classrooms.
Triplett shared with participants during the tour that Catholic Charities’ success in serving refugee clients is due to the “dedicated employees,” and the generous and welcoming nature of the community.
He said that Catholic Charities receives about 700 refugees per year for whom they provide assistance with housing, case management, instruction in English and employment.
Triplett explained the goal is to get refugee clients employed and self-sufficient as soon as possible. This is where the English as a Second Language and the family learning center programs come into play, Triplett said.
Zeljana Javorek, a former refugee client who now serves as the ESL program manager, shared with the group that parents attend the ESL and job training classes while their children are cared for in the child care rooms.
Javorek, a Bosnian native, explained that this is a time of transition for the children whom in many cases have never left their mother’s side. Triplett added that time in the child care facility also serves to prepare the littlest ones for when their parents obtain employment and child care outside the home becomes a day to day occurrence.
Triplett said to the group that with training, many refugee clients have been able to quickly obtain employment.
The success of the program, Triplett said, is due to the fact that the city of Louisville is “super welcoming,” and that the “schools and the local leaders are on board.” Triplett added that the Office of Migration and Refugee Services has “lots of expertise” and many “dedicated employees who can pay attention to the adjustment issues,” all of which means success for the clients.
Rania Belmadani, a native of Algeria who now lives in Lexington, Ky., was one of the people who visited Catholic Charities’ St. Anthony campus on Market St. Belmadani, who works as a language access specialist with the city of Lexington, said she attended the conference and the tour seeking to gain more knowledge to help those immigrants she works with.
“I wanted to gain more knowledge about real-life situations and use this knowledge to help the community in Lexington,” Belmadani said. “I want to help newcomers and those already living there (in Lexington) to get jobs, integrate into the community and be civically engaged in the city and the country.”
Kristy Robison and Rachael Buschman also participated in the tour. The women are part of Hope Place, a brand new non-profit which just opened its doors in Louisville’s South End. The center provides services to refugees and those recovering from drug addiction, they said.
“We wanted to see what others are doing well and what are some needs we can help with,” said Robison. “We
wanted to see what’s happening in the West End that can be done in the South End.”
Triplett said he hopes those who took part in the tour will have gained a sense that a “strong faith-based resettlement agency is an essential part of being welcoming. We’re so well connected and a part of the community. That’s important.”