Preferred Communities Program
Some of the most welcoming and best-suited places in the United States for the refugees and immigrants who settle here are the smaller cities and towns. Beyond the main urban centers in which those newly arrived have traditionally concentrated, smaller communities can offer services and opportunities not available or affordable in big cities. They are eager to welcome, support, and integrate foreign-born newcomers. With the support of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, USCRI implements the Preferred Communities Program in cities and towns that offer newly arrived refugees excellent opportunities to achieve early employment and sustained economic independence. USCRI works with partner agencies in these select communities across the United States to not only bolster their efforts to provide refugees with appropriate social services and quality jobs, but also engage local residents in becoming active participants in the newcomers’ integration.
USCRI provides training, technical assistance, and support to ensure the delivery of vital services to refugees as they adapt to their new community. At 11 sites across the country, USCRI partner agencies implement the program by expanding community resettlement capacity, enhancing delivery of family-centered self-sufficiency services, broadening sources of refugee support by promoting community linkages, and advancing the program’s sustainability through the cultivation of local donors and recruitment of volunteers.
Partner Agencies’ Participation
In preferred communities, USCRI partner agencies help refugees get specialized training, skills development, childcare, transport, and other services. Partner agencies forge collaborative partnerships with local organizations, public institutions, and mainstream service providers to aid refugees in accessing training, education, and other programs tailored to their needs.
Many refugees arrive in the United States having suffered much loss and hardship. They need the support of their new communities as they start anew. Members of preferred communities volunteer to serve as host families, language tutors, life skills trainers, pro bono attorneys, and fundraisers. They serve as important community ambassadors who identify and introduce refugees to new friends, resources, and opportunities.
In small towns across America, refugee clients have invaluable opportunities to become prominent members of their new communities. They can facilitate their social and economic integration by helping members of their new community understand how to adapt services to their needs. Refugees help communities learn and appreciate the many ways newcomers’ talents contribute to a richer, stronger society.
“Akron [Ohio] and Fort Wayne, Ind., are the two main cities where Mon people live in the United States,” said Goran Debelnogich, International Institute of Akron’s former Resettlement Services Coordinator. Nai Soeng, 30, arrived in Akron four years ago, after leaving Burma many years ago and spending several years in Thailand. Soeng is studying political science at the University of Akron and wants to work for democratic change in Burma. “Akron is a good place for him and his family and the Mon community,” Debelnogich said.
– Edited excerpt from “Mon community celebrates heritage in American home: Burma natives recall plight of their kingdom” by Jim Carney, Akron Beacon Journal, February 20, 2006.
These USCRI partner agencies are currently participating in the Preferred Communities Program: