By Jennifer Turner
On Monday, Nov. 21, the ECDC African Community Center (ACC) will host its 11th annual Refugee’s First Thanksgiving 6-9:00p.m. at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of …
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On Monday, Nov. 21, the ECDC African Community Center (ACC) will host its 11th annual Refugee’s First Thanksgiving 6-9:00p.m. at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Denver at 4610 E. Alameda. The event is free and open to the public.
The dinner is a great opportunity to welcome newly resettled refugees to Denver and help introduce them to an important American holiday. Melissa Theesen, ACC Managing Director, said, “This event helps bridge social differences between people who already live here and those new to the community. Anyone is welcome to attend.”
A volunteer and participant in the We Made This program. From the African Community Center website: "We Made This is is a self-sustainable Denver-based sewing initiative, providing sewing training and economic opportunity to refugees. Photo courtesy ACC.
Numerous applicants spend a decade or more in camps or other temporary (often horrendous) living situations waiting to hear whether or not they have been approved for resettlement. All have experienced persecution in some form and lived through experiences that are unimaginable to most Americans including torture, starvation and watching family and friends die at the hands of their oppressors.
In Federal Fiscal Year 2016, the U.S. admitted 84,995 refugees. These numbers reflect people who came to America between Oct. 1, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2016. There are approximately 21.3 million refugees worldwide and less than half of one percent were allowed into the U.S.
For 2017, 110,000 refugees will be permitted to enter the country. This number is set by Presidential Determination, meaning it comes directly from Congress and the President.
The ACC is one of three nonprofit organizations approved by the State Department to resettle refugees in Colorado. For fiscal year 2016, the organization resettled 581 people throughout metro Denver from countries including Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Ukraine.
The core component of ACC’s efforts is an employment program. The 501(c)(3) charity, which is funded in large part by the government, does not want refugees to subsist on welfare. Refugees are authorized to work right away and many have jobs within three months of arrival. After one year, refugees may apply for Legal Permanent Resident status and after five years may apply for citizenship.
The International Organization for Migration loans refugees approved for resettlement money for plane tickets to the U.S., with a five-year repayment term at zero percent interest.
Before refugees fly to America, they participate in cultural training. Many have never been on an airplane or used a western toilet. After they arrive, they are enrolled in classes to learn about U.S. laws, how to ride a bus, cash a check and other basic tasks.
Refugees are greeted at DIA by case managers and taken directly to apartments that have been secured prior to their arrival. The Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration provides ACC with a grant of $1,125 per refugee. These funds are to be used to meet basic needs during the first 90 days they’re in the country, including securing and furnishing housing prior to arrival.
When asked how easy it is for the refugees to acclimate to Denver, Theesen said, “It takes time for them to settle in. When they get here everything is not easy and perfect, but these are some of the most resilient people you will ever meet. They come ready to work.”
ACC has developed a network of about 250 employers, ranging from large corporations to small businesses. They often call ACC when they have job openings.
Community support is integral to the resettlement process. Theesen cited ACC’s “First Friends” program as a way to connect refugees to Americans. First Friends builds intentional friendships that make cultural differences, and complexities of life in the U.S., a little easier to navigate.
Theesen started as a case manager at ACC eight years ago. She is in touch with many refugees she worked with back then.
“Some have purchased homes and have their own businesses. They are software engineers and realtors and have become very ingrained in our community. The most exciting thing I see is those same individuals volunteering, and even donating, to help new refugees get settled," Theesen said.
For more information on ACC or to volunteer for the Thanksgiving dinner, please visit acc-den.org. Turkey will be provided. Guests are asked to bring a dish to share.
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