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Connecting refugees with help


According to estimates from the Junior League of Cincinnati, there are anywhere from 12,000 to 25,000 people living in the Cincinnati area who have fled their homes because of war or persecution.

But while conflicts rage on in the Middle East and Africa, don't look for an influx of refugees any time soon.  The resettlement process, through the United Nations and the State Department is a lengthy one.  It can take years to get out of a refugee camp and into a new home in a new country.

Kelly Birkenhauer works on the RefugeeConnect project, which is an effort by the Junior League of Cincinnati to connect people with services and programs to help them adapt to their new communities.

And there are dozens of agencies willing to help those refugees resettle and start new lives.  But Birkenhauer says some needs were going unmet.  She says that's how RefugeeConnect started.  The program holds quarterly meetings with the different organizations, who sometimes find they're working on the same issue.  She says RefugeeConnect is always re-evaluating, and looking for ways to improve services, or bring new organizations to the table.

Birkenhauer says they found that while there were English classes available for refugees, they were often held during the day when those who would benefit were at work and couldn’t attend.  RefugeeConnect worked with two agencies that teach English, and rescheduled the classes to evenings and weekends.  She says with language barriers torn down, refugees can get better jobs and improve their families’ lives.

Refugees from war zones sometimes need psychological counseling. Birkenhauer admits there’s room for improvement in local access to such services.  And she says they want to help people with the cultural transition, but they need more American families willing to pair with refugee families, to teach them how to “fit in”.

Birkenhauer says it’s easier for younger refugees to make the transition. 

“The older generations may keep their languages, but they’re all creating new businesses, and their children are the ones that become the first generation college graduates, and go on to achieve great things,” she says.

Birkenhauer says with a more complete blanket of services, refugees will find adapting to their new communities easier, and will be more likely to succeed.