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MNA partners with Refugee Development Center to aid Gardner Academy

By:  Ann Kammerer, News Editor, CapitalGains Lansing

Nearly 40 refugee youth participated in an initiative organized by their peers, Lansing's Refugee Development Center and the Michigan Nonprofit Association to clean and paint the interior of Gardner Law, Leadership and Government Academy in mid-April.

Funded by the MNA with a mini-grant from Youth Service America, the project was one part art, one part leadership and one part community service.

"One of the things we often hear about with the refugee community is isolation," says Sheryl Zukowski, civic engagement and VISTA member, Michigan Nonprofit Association. "This project was designed to encourage students to lead, teach others about their culture, and feel more at home at their school through their volunteer initiative and art."

Nearly 13,000 people make up Lansing's refugee community. The Refugee Development Center serves the needs of newly arrived refugees, providing youth programs, language classes and advocacy. Among the center's clients are Afghans, Bosnians, Burmese, Bhutanese, Burundians, Congolese (DR and Brazzaville), Croats, Cubans, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Hmong, Iranians, Iraqis, Kurds, Liberians, Meskhetian Turks, Somali, Bantu Somali, Sudanese, and Vietnamese, along with small numbers from many other countries around the world.

Eleven volunteers from the MNA as well as 25 students from Michigan State University mentored the middle-school aged youth while they painted to help the youth learn leadership skills like teamwork and conflict resolution.

The Refugee Development Center runs a number of youth programs that are housed at the Gardner academy. Youth Program Leader Bruce Winters says that managing school projects helps youth who are adjusting to a new life in Lansing feel more connected to their community.

"The students have really taken all the initiative in creating and implementing this project," Winters says. "They want to make sure their school is welcoming for newcomers and that their cultures are visibly represented."

The one-day initiative on April 13 was part of Global Youth Service Days—a program that promotes youth volunteerism worldwide.

Source: Sheryl Zukowski, Civic Engagement and VISTA Member, Michigan Nonprofit Association
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor