CWS Greensboro, generous congregation help refugees get 'connected'

Refugees in Greensboro are now able to search for jobs, practice their English, learn about U.S. culture and prepare for their citizenship exam online thanks to a new computer lab.

Rev. Paul Davis (left) joined CWS-Greensboro staff, clients and volunteers for the opening of the new computer center.  Photo: Sarah Ivory, CWS/Greensboro

How could your organization use $9,000 plus some volunteer time?

That was the question Congregational United Church of Christ put to the CWS Immigration and Refugee Program Office in Greensboro, N.C., and a couple of other local agencies late last year. The congregation’s goal was to select one agency to which it would contribute significant support in the coming year.

“We are by no means the largest church in Greensboro, but we wanted to make a significant, no-strings contribution of money and time,” said the Rev. Paul Davis, Minister of Christian Education at Congregational UCC.

CWS submitted the winning proposal for 2012 – a computer lab for refugee clients to use for online job searches, self-paced English language practice, learning about U.S. culture and citizenship exam preparation – and to keep up with news from their home countries.

With careful shepherding, CWS set up a 14-station computer lab for $5,000. The remaining $4,000 is budgeted for maintenance and support for an AmeriCorps position to help staff the lab.

Along with the congregation’s gift of money, more than 30 members pledged time that they would contribute to CWS in 2012 – whether in the computer lab, setting up an apartment for a newly arriving refugee family, tutoring English, providing transportation to appointments, praying for refugees or writing letters to elected officials to urge them to continue robust support for refugees.

“There are so many ways to contribute,” said CWS-Greensboro Director Sarah Ivory. “Cosponsoring a family is one way, and Congregational UCC has done that. This time we wanted to offer church members a specific task or time – say, Tuesday evenings for three months. Not everyone can make an open-ended commitment to help one family.”.

Am Khan Khup cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony of the computer lab.  Photo: Sarah Ivory, CWS/Greensboro

The inauguration of the computer lab featured a ribbon cutting ceremony, refreshments and, of course, a chance for CWS-Greensboro’s clients to try out the computers.

“The employment class was the first to use it,” Ivory said. “Some had never held a mouse before. Others went straight to updating their Facebook pages or searching out news and music videos in their own language.”

For refugees with no prior computer experience, CWS-Greensboro instituted an “Introduction to Computers” class. It is proving quite popular.

"I have never used a computer in my life,” said Hem Lal Acharya from Bhutan. “Now I have the chance to learn how to use one. I think it will help me get a job in the future."

"I really like the computer lab!” echoed Mon Maya Giri, also from Bhutan. “I have never used a computer before and now that I can learn, I want to email my friends and use Facebook to be able to have friends all over the world.”

A survey of refugee clients also found interest in learning photo editing and presentation applications, and how to do online banking.

 

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