Though new U.S. policies are limiting the number of refugees entering into the country, the Refugee Community Center at Church of the Mediator in Allentown is still providing a vital ministry to the community. “The low admission cap for refugees, and even less funding, means there just aren’t the new arrivals we had become accustomed to,” said the Rev. Twila Smith, Missioner at Church of the Mediator. “This fall, participation in the programs has dropped. Yet we know we are needed now as much as ever.”
The Refugee Community Center offers programs to help refugees learn English, obtain full-time employment, and find better housing. It also helps refugees find other public services, such as healthcare, schooling, and counseling. Smith says making connections with other groups and services is vital to the Center’s ministry. “The changes with arriving refugees and the collaborative nature of the mission, has presented the church with opportunities to engage in more collaborative relationships,” said Smith.
The Refugee Community Center has been a collaborative effort since its founding in the Spring of 2016. Church of the Mediator, Bethany Christian Services, and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services partnered together to create the Center. Since then, the Center has partnered with several other groups. “These collaborations are bringing gifts and people to the table” said Smith.
As the Center’s ministry grows, new partnerships are being forged. A pilot after school project is underway, in partnership with the Migrant Education Program. In October, Church of the Mediator hosted a Lights on After School event in order to raise awareness about the importance of quality afterschool programs for all school-aged children. More than 100 school children attended in connection with the after school project.
The C.R.E.A.T.E. community art program, a collaboration with nearby Cedar Crest College, connects refugees with local art students and provides creative outlets for refugee children to express themselves while learning a new language. “Being able to share the same space through art making opens dialogue that are both verbal and non-verbal,” said Jill Odegaard, Chair of the Art Department at Cedar Crest. “This Spring, we are delighted to bring Storytelling Through Object Making: Techniques for Visual Narratives to the Refugee Community Center as we engage the children through puppetry and storytelling as a means of bringing creativity and literacy together through art making.”
As the Refugee Community Center seeks to serve the changing needs of the refugee population in Allentown, more partnerships are being explored. “Watching for and following up on opportunities to connect is crucial for efforts to help support refugees, as well as our engagement in the wider community,” said Smith.
photo caption: Professor Jill Odegaard