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How Cities Like St. Louis Are Helping Families Welcome Refugees

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Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash

Interest in immigration and refugees has been on the rise in recent months. Not that this should come as a surprise: Recent statistics show that cities like Indianapolis; Kansas City, Missouri; and St. Louis experienced notable increases in foreign-born residents from 2015 to 2016, to the tune of 15.4 percent, 6.6 percent, and 4.3 percent, respectively.

In this environment, plenty of people wonder how best to help people coming to start new lives in America. Parents especially are trying to figure out how to guide their children toward lending helping hands to those in their communities who were not born in the U.S.

What mothers and fathers are realizing is that getting their families engaged in the process of assisting diverse residents in their cities isn’t difficult. In fact, plenty of major cities are already putting in place programs and initiatives for just this purpose. Consider these straightforward methods of promoting a welcoming and inclusive mindset among kids and teens with help from local community efforts.

1. Cultural events and fundraisers.

St. Louis’s respected International Institute eases the way for refugees and immigrants to feel more at home in the city through a number of efforts, such as contacting local international grocery stores to ensure a supply of a newly arrived group’s preferred ingredients, providing education on citizenship and language, and training refugees for employment.

Although volunteering at International Institute gatherings is always a help, it’s not necessary to foster a sense of interest in foreign-born populations among kids and adults. Just showing up at the International Institute’s activities (like its International Bazaar or Festival of Nations) shows solidarity for the organization’s mission to accommodate new arrivals. Individuals can look for similar opportunities in their area to support immigrants and refugees in any capacity they can.

2. Housing refugees or asylum seekers.

While many large cities have systems in place for taking in and housing displaced people, every extra bed makes a difference. You may not have known it, but Airbnb has jumped in to assist displaced peoples who come to American cities without a place to stay. Rather than being forced into homeless shelters, individuals and families can find open arms through Airbnb’s Open Homes program. The innovative project’s core objective is to enable refugees to live somewhere safe, comfortable, and judgment-free for a specific period of time — all at zero cost to them.

3. Finding children's books celebrating diversity.

Books have a way of opening doors into the heart and mind. A great way to raise children with a healthy respect for people of other cultures is to head to your city's local library or bookstore and bring home literature such as “Today I Celebrate Holidays!: How Ali, Adam, and Ari Find More in Common Through Their Differences” by Rose Gulferi Apak. The book shows three children from different religious backgrounds finding common ground within their family traditions.

For younger kids, another option is the “Global Babies” board book from the nonprofit Global Fund for Children. Not only can “Global Babies” help teach your kids a valuable lesson in empathy, but proceeds from sales of the book will go to help needy young people worldwide.

4. Working with local schools and universities to fund scholarships for foreign-born populations.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) is leading the way toward helping immigrants gain not only a basic education, but university degrees. Its $10 million refugee education initiative promises to educate as many as 50,000 individuals over the next four years. Look into similar options in your area — if they don’t exist, you can use SNHU’s example as a springboard to campaign for initiatives to be brought to your local institutions of higher education.

5. Fostering innovation among kids who want to help.

When Pittsburgh ninth-grader Peyton Klein saw a Syrian classmate having trouble communicating, Klein sprang into action. The young activist formed the organization Global Minds to make it easier for cross-cultural learning to occur naturally between students, instructors, and families. Klein’s project, which has received support from Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, shows how influential even teens can be in promoting tolerance and encouraging inclusion.

No individual has found the one “Aha!” answer that will solve the issues faced by refugees and foreign-born citizens in this great nation. But if parents and communities band together, they can chip away at the boundaries holding back a more welcoming — and rewarding — experience for everyone.

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