CONVO: “Journey to Hope: The Experience of Refugees in Kentucky” highlights Centre alums’ commitment to service

Posted by Centre News in News 17 Nov 2015

Refugees ConvoCentre College is home to a deeply engaged community of students, who take advantage of the many learning opportunities outside of the classroom, from service opportunities to stimulating convocations. Director of Kentucky Refugee Ministries Barbara Kleine ’71 will discuss her passion for community service during her convocation “Journey to Hope: The Experience of Refugees in Kentucky” on Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in Weisiger Theatre.

This convocation is part of Centre’s annual Poverty and Homelessness week and will explore the plight of refugees as they flee poverty, persecution and violence.

In addition to Kleine, several Centre alumni are working with the nonprofit to provide resettlement services to refugees through a variety of roles. Alums currently working at the Lexington and Louisville branches include Paige Farris ’12, Lauren Huter ’12, Mariel Smith ’11, Dabney Parker ’71, Ben Tuttle ’10 and Lee Welsh ‘69.

Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM) is a nonprofit organization that uses faith- and agency-based co-sponsorship to promote self-sufficiency and successful integration of refugees into Kentucky communities. They offer access to community resources and opportunities for refugees as well as promote awareness of diversity.

Smith first volunteered with the organization’s Lexington branch while in graduate school and assisted an Iraqi family with everything from practicing English conversational skills to scheduling doctor appointments.

“It was an eye-opening experience to see what people who are new to this country go through—things Americans do each day without even thinking, which often seem like insurmountable obstacles to new citizens,” she explains. “Seeing how that family worked hard to learn a new language, a new city, and a new culture, all in the face of such trauma in their native country, was extremely powerful and left its mark on me.”

After working in nonprofit marketing for several years, Smith found her way back to KRM and is now a caseworker. Her days consist of some of the same duties she had when working with the Iraqi family, but on a much larger scale.

“Because I am the main point of contact for my clients, they can walk in on any given day asking for help with learning the bus routes, finding a certain government office, applying for a job or treating a medical emergency,” she says. “Sometimes it’s as simple as explaining that mail they’ve brought me is junk, but other times, it’s sitting on hold for an hour with a government office to straighten out a complicated benefits problem.”

Farris began working as a volunteer coordinator at KRM after completing her second year as a Teach For America corps member in Arkansas.

“I was looking for a position in a nonprofit organization where I would be able to continue in a path related to education, but also use my skills to work with international populations in Louisville,” she says. “KRM seemed like a great fit.”

Huter taught English in Spain for 18 months after graduation. She wanted to find a job that allowed her to use her Spanish on a daily basis in order to retain her fluency, and she had previously worked in another refugee resettlement agency in Louisville.

She now works in the employment office at KRM where a typical day involves discussing job options with clients, helping them complete applications, driving them to interviews, teaching work readiness classes, helping them create resumes, showing them how to get to work via the bus and reaching out to new employers in the area. Playing basketball at Centre taught her “the importance of teamwork, sharing responsibilities, leadership and communicating well with others,” she says, which she applies with a team of four in the employment office.

“About 60 percent of KRM clients are from Cuba. Therefore, I speak Spanish daily when discussing employment opportunities with clients,” Huter explains. “I often accompany clients to job interviews and interpret for those meetings.”

Each alum credits their classes and study abroad experiences at Centre with preparing them for work at KRM.

“From Lori Hartmann-Mahmud’s class on the politics of Sub-Saharan Africa, to Rick Axtell’s class on poverty and homelessness, we studied many of the issues that cause people to leave their homes and move across the globe to Louisville and what challenges they might face once they arrive,” Farris concludes. “Centre always encourages students to get out of their comfort zones, keep an open mind and explore the world around them no matter what area they studied, which is very beneficial for a position at KRM.”

Kleine’s convocation will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 17 in Weisiger Theatre. This event is free and open to the public.

by Hayley Hoffman ‘16
November 17, 2015