This article is made possible by a partnership with the Marion County Commission on Youth. Indy with Kids is proud to support the work of MCCOY and help communicate information that is important for the youth of our community.
Written by Jacie Farris
According to the Immigrant Welcome Center, Indianapolis is home to individuals who represent 120 nationalities! The diversity of our city’s makeup impacts our schools, population, and economy. It also creates opportunities to learn about and help immigrants and refugees in need.
“Many times, refugees and immigrants blend in easily after resettling in America,” said Matt Calvert, grants coordinator for Exodus Refugee Immigration. “They learn English, find jobs, buy cars and homes and send their children to school. They shop at grocery stores and other local businesses and contribute greatly to the economy of this city, and the more support they feel from their neighbors, the faster this process happens. When newcomers are included in the lives of the people in their community, the community gains new perspectives, experiences, and knowledge.”
However, not everyone has the ability to settle into life in Indianapolis quickly or easily. Refugees, specifically, are in great need of support.
“An immigrant is an individual who chooses to leave one’s country to settle in another to improve the future prospects of themselves and their families,” said Calvert. “On the other hand, refugees are defined as persons who flee their homelands due to violence, persecution, oppression and other human rights violations. Because of this, the United Nations has legally designated them as refugees in need of protection, and they come to the United States seeking safety as legal residents.”
According to Calvert, refugees often arrive in the city with few resources, and need help learning English, finding child care, securing transportation, adapting to local customs, advancing their education, providing for their basic needs, acquiring medical care, navigating social service systems, locating safe housing, and much more.
Exodus Refugee Immigration helps refugees and other displaced people by welcoming them to Indiana. They offer a number of programs that help with placement, language skills, employment, mental wellness and more. Exodus also offers a program specifically for youth that helps children and teens acclimate to our local culture. Exodus has worked in the Indianapolis community for 36 years, and last year served nearly 1000 individuals.
Similarly, Refugee and Immigrant Services through the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has served more than 20,000 refugees since 1975. RIS helps refugees and immigrants by offering resettlement, employment, cultural orientation, and legal services.
According to Beth Russell, supervisor of outreach and education for RIS, their services aim to “maintain our client’s dignity while helping them achieve their goal of self-sufficiency. It is not an easy path for them but after some time, each person has success stories to share, and every person’s success is viewed differently.”
Russell said that for many refugees, success can be measured by their new sense of freedom or reuniting with family members, while for others it is defined by the opportunity to earn a high school diploma, buy a car or obtain a driver’s license.
Calvert said that one of the greatest success stories he has witnessed involved a young Eritrean man who needed help applying for U.S. citizenship. Once he is made a citizen, the young man, “a star student in the Citizenship Program,” will be able to petition to have his mother, who was believed to be dead until recently, join him in the United States. His application is still pending, but once the processes are complete, he and his mother plan to be reunited after more than a decade apart.
For families interested in supporting refugees and immigrants in Indianapolis, both Calvert and Russell agreed that donations can help provide incoming families with basic necessities as they settle into their surroundings. In addition, Russell said volunteering to mentor and tutor can also be helpful.
“The best way to support our newly arrived sisters and brothers is to get involved in a local organization by volunteering time, resources and prayer,” said Russell.
Calvert offered some additional advice.
“Be a friend. If there are refugees or immigrant children in your child’s class, involve them in activities. It can be very isolating to not speak perfect English. Build those friendships now with immigrants and refugees because in a few months, those same people will likely have much better English and will be excited to practice with you. Be an advocate. Communicate to your state and local representatives that you support refugees in your community. Be prepared. If you see someone being discriminated against, be ready to offer help or support.”