Global Friends Coalition educates, empowers and embraces New Americans!

Educate, empower and embrace! The team at Global Friends Coalition uses these words to describe their work with refugee and immigrant families in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Beginning their work with Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota to assist resettled refugees, this group of volunteers has evolved into a dedicated nonprofit organization aimed at promoting the integration of refugees and receiving communities.

Global Friends Coalition has worked with over 100 people from Bhutan, Somalia, Iraq, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia. Despite a decrease in the number of refugees resettling in Grand Forks, Global Friends Coalition has continued to promote and accomplish integration. The coalition was established with a clear mission: refugee integration. Refugees determine their goals and local volunteers help achieve those goals. The coalition offers three programs — the family mentors and adult education program, resilient youth program and the community outreach and advocacy program.

The family mentors and adult education program aims at helping families at every level of the integration process. For many refugee families, previously living in camps, living in the United States is a significant adjustment. Volunteers or mentors visit families in their homes and help them with basic needs such as learning how to use an oven or a dishwasher. Other families may need assistance with obtaining a driver’s permit, accessing social services or finding employment. Established and employed families may seek the coalition services for their elderly parents. The coalition offers a weekly social hour for elderly refugees who may be alone much of the day and experiencing isolation. During the social hour, new Americans and volunteers participate in exercises and learn new games together — playing UNO or Go Fish over a shared snack and tea. The goal is to help new Americans feel empowered, welcomed and part of their new community.

Similarly, the youth resilient program pairs school-aged children with volunteers for homework help. It has naturally evolved to offer mentorship between youth and volunteers — who are mostly students from the local university. Together, they cook their favorite dishes, explore the city and share life experiences with one another. Unsurprisingly, friendships are born. The community outreach and advocacy programs host events for the community to come together and learn from one another. For example, Grand Forks celebrates World Refugee Day every year by putting on an annual public picnic.

While these services meet the needs of many new Americans, it also allowed the receiving community to learn about challenges that refugees and immigrants face. Volunteers take great pride in their work and are happy to share their stories. “Global Friends volunteers have become the greatest advocates”, said Cynthia Shabb, executive director at Global Friends Coalition, “Volunteers share what they hear when they are out in the community. They tell me, “this is what I heard and this is how I responded” when hearing misconceptions about refugees and their families.

By spreading knowledge and empathy, an integrated community is created for all. CLINIC applauds Global Friends Coalition and their team of volunteers as they continue to promote diversity and welcome new Americans warmly. Learn more about Global Friends Coalition.