8:41am

Thu March 7, 2013
Community

The Global Refugee Center: A Community Within A Community

Colorado is fast becoming a home to refugees from war ravaged areas like Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

For over 30 years, refugees have been coming here, there are over 2000 living right now in Greeley.

KUNC's Nathan Heffel reports on Greeley's Global Refugee Center.

Once refugees arrive in the United States, they’re sent to several primary resettlement locations across the country including Denver. These are not undocumented workers. They are here legally. They have established Social Security numbers.

2011 numbers from the Colorado Department of Human Services, indicate that nearly 46,000 refugees have resettled in Colorado. Many settle in Greeley due to the availability of low-to-no-skill jobs at the JBS USA meat packing facility or the Cargill packing facility in Fort Morgan.

Most arrive in Greeley not speaking English which makes adapting to life here, even on a very basic scale, difficult. Many arrive having fled their homes or having left family members behind. Settling in northern Colorado is like a blank slate says Asad Abdi, co-executive director of the Global Refugee Center.“It’s just like the earth and the sky… everything is new, was new to us. Language, culture, custom, religion, color, even the weather and infrastructure,” says Abdi. “Everything. Everything was new to me. So it’s not easy to adapt [to] that all and so there’s so many challenges.”

"Everything is new, was new to us. Language, culture, custom, religion, color, even the weather."

Abdi, a former refugee himself, came to the U.S from Ethiopia in 2000. He opened the Greeley Refugee Center (GRC) along with four other East African refugees in 2008. Today, the center provides services for arrivals from over 30 different countries including Burundi, Lybia, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the center, there is  access to preventative health education, employment training and cultural integration, and preservation services.  That makes the GRC the heart of the refugee community.

The GRC is run by volunteers from Greeley and the surrounding area. “We depend on them. The teachers, office helpers, donors, everybody,” says Abdi. “All this we get from the receiving community.”

One of those volunteers is Dennis Miller.

A retired college teacher, he’s worked with refugees who have advanced English skills at the center for the past two years. He’s preparing them for their GED certification. “The one thing I’ve never done - we’ve just not had time for - is to find out their personal adventure from their country to the United States,” said Miller. “Some have been in refugee camps and so forth, but some of that is very painful so I don’t inquire about that.”

The GRC provides day care for families who are taking language classes or receiving job training.
Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC

The classes taught by Miller and other teachers at the GRC are vital to the success of refugees as they settle into their new lives in Greeley and northern Colorado. With more arriving in the area, Greeley/Evans School District 6 is also seeing a rise in refugee children attending their schools. To help the children better acclimate to attending school, the district has created a self funded 'Newcomers' program. Over 300 students are currently in the program which focuses on things as simple as holding a pencil or learning how to open a box of crayons.

Both the GRC and Greeley/Evans school district 6 say they are planning for their programs to continue growing, however that's  dependent on JBS USA and the number of refugees it continues to hire. 

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