Working with refugee youths at the Bowling Green-based International Center of Kentucky, Jessie Meier said they face challenges native-born American youths never experience.
In the eyes of their refugee parents, Meier said, the youths are expected to have a job immediately after graduating high school to help support their family – and go to college.
That’s why Meier is excited about a new refugee youth mentorship program for which the center is seeking volunteers.
“We found that the needs of child and youth refugees aren’t being met by adult programs,” Meier said.
The program will help refugee youths navigate their higher education options and job opportunities after they collect their high school diplomas, Meier said.
“We still need about 40 more mentors,” said Albert Mbanfu, the International Center’s executive director.
The center’s goal is to have about 60 adult mentors who can commit two hours each week to spend time with their mentees, helping them integrate into American life. Mentor candidates must be willing to submit to a background check and training provided by the center, Mbanfu said.
After they’re trained on the center’s “do’s and don’ts,” Mbanfu said mentors will be matched with families and that the center hopes to help 60 to 80 young people. The program targets middle school and high school students, and even high school graduates up to 19 years old, Mbanfu said.
The project is funded through the Kentucky Office for Refugees in Louisville and aims to expand the center’s programming beyond support services for adult refugees resettling in Bowling Green.
“We’ve been doing quite a good job of attending to the needs of adults,” Mbanfu said, adding that “We’ve not paid perfect attention” to young refugees.
Previously, Mbanfu told the Daily News that mentors could help young refugees with their English and study skills, take them on museum visits and offer guidance on how to navigate college and career options after high school.
Young refugees also have to adjust to a new culture after spending years in refugee camps, Mbanfu said.
“When they come in they will need to know how to carry out activities and operate in the community,” he said.
– Those interested in becoming a mentor should contact the International Center at 270-781-8336 or go online at icofky.org/volunteer.
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.