Global Friends Coalition prepares to expand its integration efforts

Two years ago, CLINIC’s Center for Immigrant Integration highlighted Global Friends Coalition, a small nonprofit dedicated to welcoming newcomers that was born from a dedicated group of volunteers who first began their work with Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota. Over the last 14 years, Global Friends Coalition has supported and fostered refugee integration in the greater Grand Forks community.

Now ready to offer immigration legal services to the community, CLINIC welcomed Global Friends Coalition into its network earlier this year. The staff of two are currently working toward obtaining DOJ Recognition and Accreditation, a federal program that allows accredited representatives to provide immigration legal services to underserved immigrants. This comes at a time when Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota closed its doors in January 2021, leaving the community with few options to access free or reduced cost immigration legal services.

The news of Global Friends Coalition expanding their integration efforts to include immigration legal services has already circulated beyond Grand Forks, N.D., as residents of neighboring cities have also reached out to the agency with questions. Cynthia Shabb, executive director at Global Friends Coalition, said the organization anticipates receiving referrals from different entities in the community and nonprofit organizations in Minnesota.  At a recent meeting with the state of North Dakota’s refugee coordinator, a referral system was discussed, so if Global Friends isn’t equipped to handle the issues, there is another legal entity to refer cases.

Global Friends Coalition has been flooded with questions from newcomers seeking additional assistance. Some community members need assistance to renew their green card or to file for naturalization. Others were separated from a spouse or child at some point in their migratory journey and are hoping to reunite with them in the United States. Up until now, Global Friends Coalition offered citizenship classes but could not assist community members with filing their applications. “We anticipate helping more people become citizens [and] will be able to see them through the whole process, from application to naturalization. Isn’t that true integration when someone can participate in the voting process and lend their voices to our government,” said Shabb.

In addition to growing its services, Global Friends Coalition is considering expanding their mission to be even more inclusive. Currently, their mission states they will “foster refugee integration through work with New Americans and the Greater Forks Community.” If expanded, their mission will broaden their integration efforts to include all immigrants, in addition to refugees and asylees. “This is not as big of a change as one might think, as we have always allowed immigrants who choose to move here to attend our English and citizenship classes,” said Shabb. Currently, Global Friends Coalition pairs volunteers and mentors with refugee families, who have previously lived in camps, to learn how to access services, such as obtaining a driver’s license or learning how to use home appliances. Shabb hopes to be able to provide mentorships to other immigrant communities as well now that the resettlement of refugees has decreased in Grand Forks.

CLINIC applauds Global Friends Coalition for their commitment and dedication to their community. Share with us your organization’s integration efforts for a chance to be featured in next month’s affiliate highlight.

Photo credit to Erin Phillips/Soulshine Photography.