Did you know that Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky is a refugee resettlement community for 25,000 refugees from all over the world? Cincinnati provides a welcoming home to refugees from Burma, Rwanda, Vietnam, and many more countries, with plans to resettle another 500 by 2018.
One of the programs assisting with resettlement is the Junior League of Cincinnati’s RefugeeConnect. As a nonprofit incubator, the Junior League of Cincinnati routinely assess areas of need affecting women and children in Greater Cincinnati. Based on those unmet needs, they develop solutions-oriented community programming. (In 96 years of community service, the Junior League of Cincinnati has incubated or impacted nearly 120 projects and organizations, many of which are now independent nonprofits that still grow and thrive.)
In 2011, their needs assessment revealed a gap in the refugee resettlement process: for the first ninety days after their arrival in the United States, refugees are provided with Reception and Placement services — but after this initial resettlement period expires, refugees are on their own to find resources for things like transportation, language translation, and medical care. A collaborative umbrella program was needed to link refugees and services providers together, and to educate the broader community about the refugee experience. From these findings, the Junior League of Cincinnati founded their RefugeeConnect program in 2013.
RefugeeConnect now acts as a resource and connector to ensure refugees have access to the programs available to them, and that they feel welcome in their adopted community. They currently offer an in-depth virtual resource center (www.refugeeconnect.org) that allows refugees to quickly and easily search through more than 80 service providers in specific categories, such as employment, housing, education, transportation, language interpretation, and legal assistance.
“Our intention with the virtual resource center is to have a collaborative, ever-growing database for anything that a refugee might need as they acculturate into our community,” explains Robyn Lamont, RefugeeConnect Program Director.
All 80 of these service providers also meet quarterly, as part of RefugeeConnect’s Refugee Empowerment Initiative (REI) forums, to share ideas and connect with one another. These service provider include organizations like Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio, Kentucky Refugee Ministries, the American Red Cross, 4C for Children, the City of Cincinnati, Miami University of Middletown, and HIAS.
Not only is the virtual resource center a connector for refugees, it is also an educational tool for the greater community.
“RefugeeConnect is Greater Cincinnati’s hub to learn about who refugees are and their positive local impact. All refugees who are resettled in the U.S. have employment authorization and, after five years of living here, a refugee is eligible to become an American citizen,” Lamont explains. “It’s important for the greater community, especially the business owners and employers, to understand the positive impact refugees can have on a community.”
RefugeeConnect also provides education and information about the steps of refugee resettlement process in the U.S. For example, people don’t realize refugees are subject to the highest levels of security checks in any category of traveler or immigrant to the United States, and agencies responsible for screening refugees include the National Counterterrorism Center/Intelligence Community, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department. The process can take years, and includes biometrics, medical assessments, in-person interviews, and extensive background checks and identification paperwork.
RefugeeConnect provides many different ways to get involved, from their World Refugee Day Cup Soccer tournament, to film screenings, to volunteering at ESOL and citizenship classes.
**All photos taken by Dyah Miller at Arteologie**