One year anniversary of refugee families | University of Nevada, Reno

/Carina Black

One year anniversary of first refugee family in Reno: Hard work, but improved prospects for a better life

8/31/2017 | By Carina Black
Executive Director, NNIC

Friday, Aug. 25, 2017 marked the one-year anniversary when the first refugee family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo arrived in Reno. 

Fourteen additional families have joined them in the past 12 months -- that is prior to the Trump administration's ban on additional refugees.  The family has adjusted quite well, mom gave birth to a baby which of course, is an American citizen!  Both dad and the oldest daughter are working full-time to make ends meet.   

All the families are struggling with everything from learning English to living in poverty, being isolated from friends and family back home, living in unsafe neighborhoods, stressing to comprehend the health care system, all while wrestling with the guilt of living here safely.  In the grand scheme, they are doing what all immigrants who built and continue to build this country have done -- they work hard to make life better for their children.    

Since the arrival of the first family, I've met children who came in October and November and spoke two words of English at that time.  At the end of the school year, they proudly brought report cards with all A's.  (I'm' going to make it a habit to collect report cards from now on!)  We recently resettled a family from Afghanistan -- a single mom whose husband disappeared at the hands of the Taliban.  On the first day of school, her children were ready to go by 4 a.m.   

Our staff here at the Northern Nevada International Center (NNIC) has experienced more learning than we sometimes bargained for!  We continue to struggle with limited staff, a lack of space for our expanding operation, and limited resources to fully serve our clients so that they can become self-sufficient.  We were fortunate to establish a relationship with a local foundation that offered to fund summer camps for all of the refugee youth. 

We continue to receive support from local community members in all areas, from taking refugee families to the grocery store, to accompanying them to doctors' appointments and offering other assistance as needed.  One local car dealership offered a family a car to help them see their sick child at the Oakland Children's Hospital.  The Northern Nevada Muslim Community Center has assisted all families in one way or another, making the newcomers feel welcome here in Northern Nevada.  We have established a relationship with a dentist who offers pro bono services to clients, because after years of neglect and a lack of medical care or injuries, their dental situation is precarious. 

We've been fortunate to have people serving as communicators within their mentor and volunteer groups, making sure that there is a bridge between our case managers and the volunteers.  We have met dozens of teachers, counselors, principals and other support staff at the Washoe County School district who are going above and beyond their duties as educators. Last week, I heard of a teacher who personally picked up two refugee youth so they wouldn't miss school.   

Our first refugee youth will graduate from high school at the end of the school year.  She was one of those who didn't speak any English just 10 months ago. This summer, she was chosen to participate in a leadership camp and spent a month in Washington, D.C.   She wants to be a pilot, or do anything with airplanes, she says.  I just want to help her get to the next step, which is to go to college and start the path to a better and safer future ... these days, it's all about the little steps and small successes that count!


NSights offers viewpoints that do not necessarily reflect the official position of the University of Nevada, Reno.

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