We’re Hiring

College and Career Coordinator –
Applications Due October 12th

The Refugee Education Center is looking for a talented individual to join the team. This position is responsible for assisting refugee youth as they pursue future opportunities for college or career placement. This will include assisting students with completing college applications,  FAFSA and college entrance testing, or identifying career and apprenticeship opportunities.

To view the position details and requirements, please go to: https://refugeeeducationcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/College-and-Career-Coordinator-JD.pdf

To apply, please email: Careers@refugeeeducationcenter.org


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Bridging the Gap: Agnes

“I really love working with them. I love my job. You know when you’re doing something you really love, it doesn’t feel like a job. It just feels like you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Meet Agnes, one of our marvelous community workers! Uniquely fitted for this role, Agnes is a support system for families on a daily basis. For the REC, she acts as an interpreter, connector, and engager who fosters and facilitates a successful relationship between refugee families and education.  

She also serves an important role at our Hands Connected Early Learning Center, working to enroll refugee children under the age of three into an early education program that sets the stage for hope and success. It’s a great fit, because it is also where her son attends.

When Agnes first meets a family, she says that they “…feel very excited. I welcome them with a smile and I show them that I am their sister.” For the families she visits on a day-to-day basis, Agnes is a piece of home, and a source of light to the path refugees must navigate upon their arrival into the U.S. 

She is more than just an interpreter to help families with education enrollment, she makes sure the families feel engaged in the conversation and the process, which is important to creating a sense of community.  

 “When they feel like they have enough support, things go well and it starts to become much easier, especially for those families who don’t speak English.”

As an individual who has walked in the shoes of these children, Agnes knows what is necessary for our refugee neighbors to be successful and supported. She has faced many of the same barriers that they must now overcome. 

 So, what are some of these barriers refugees face? 


When Agnes arrived with her parents to the United States 10 years ago, she did not speak an ounce of English past “how are you,” which she says is just what you’re taught to say. Agnes says communication is a primary concern because not being able to speak the same language makes it considerably more difficult to succeed, and it becomes the most challenging, prolonged barrier to overcome.   

But because Agnes is fluent in 4 different languages (Swahili, Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, and now English), not only is she able to interpret for a large population that we serve, but she can also provide comfort for families by being able to engage them. She dissolves the disconnect and builds a bridge by taking them to the schools their children are going to be attending, enrolling them, allowing them to tour and meet the principle, and setting up bus transportation. She specializes in school-related concerns over the long term, making sure they are in the proper courses, and ensuring that parents understand and attend parent-teacher conferences.

Education Across Cultures.  

With that, Agnes also says it is important to understand that education systems across countries and cultures can be vastly different. Hearing that your child who was in 5th  grade in their home country is going to be in 7th grade in America can be confusing or difficult to hear, so it is important to be empathetic and provide support. This speaks to part of the REC’s mission to bridge the gap as we work to not only welcome but further seek to understand each other in order to grow as a community.  

 “At that moment, when a family is feeling very discouraged, I step out of my boundaries. I give them details and examples of my life. Like, hey I had to face this too, and now look at me.”

For most of these students, extra time and support become vital factors of success. So, Agnes points families towards the after-school tutoring program offered at the REC, describing it as a powerful tool in helping further develop the language and academic skills that are crucial to keeping on track.  Agnes says this extra support would have been instrumental for her success when she came over here as a refugee student.

“When I arrived here, I didn’t have all of this support that I give from the REC, that I see all these kids getting from us. When I started working with the REC, I could see a big change. Refugees are getting more support than they used to.. so this is very supportive — to have someone go in and enroll you in school and then you’re able to come here and do your after-school homework.”

Students come to the after-school program to receive help on their homework that they may not otherwise receive. Volunteers take the time to transport students and work with them 1:1, as well as provide tutoring that is tailored to their abilities in reading, writing, and math. 

 Agnes believes there is something special about working within this community. Providing support through the REC creates change and promotes growth. 

 “I have always been a people person. I was born this way. I love people and I love help. Helping this community means a lot to me.”



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Third Annual Benefit Dinner – Join us October 17th!

We would be thrilled to have you join us at our Third Annual Benefit Dinner! This year’s theme, “Growing Superheroes” introduces us to a new way of thinking about our youth. In their own words, our refugee students have described what skills and abilities they bring to our city, and to our world as a whole. It will be an evening that will not disappoint! We hope to see you there. Tickets can be purchased at: www.plantingdeeperroots2018.eventbrite.com 

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Standing In Hope

Over the last few weeks, two students have become fast friends. This past year, Zubeda, a second grader, and her brothers started to attend our after school program for homework help. What Zubeda found was friendship.  Fatima, a Kindergartener, also started to attend the after-school tutoring program this year. Although they come from different countries, their parents share a similar story. Both families settled in Grand Rapids after seeking refuge from war in their home countries. The two girls found a common bond when they started coming to the Refugee Education Center.  

The other day, as they put their arms around each other, their expression became an example of what we see daily at the Refugee Education Center: students finding a safe place to learn and belong, and parents finding a hope for their children’s future.  

So what does it look like to stand in hope for refugees in 2018?  

Although numbers for resettlement to the US have dwindled in the past year, Grand Rapids has a strong presence of refugees creating a new life here. It currently is home to more than 25,000 refugees. As the news headlines transition away from the crisis abroad, the need still remains to support refugees here at home. So as we work together to stand in hope for refugees in our community, let us not stand by on the sidelines but stand in the gap.   

At the Refugee Education Center, we were able to provide educational support to over 300 students in 2017. We have witnessed children excelling in their grades at school, overcoming language barriers, and  going on to graduate. Yet, we also understand that without an environment of safety, a child cannot learn. So while providing educational support through course catch-up and English Language support, the Center also creates a space of hope, peace, and solidarity.

Standing in hope for refugees in Grand Rapids looks like creating support systems that work for our newest neighbors. It looks like hiring refugees in your business or visiting a refugee-owned business. It looks like creating a seat at the decision-making table. At The Refugee Education Center, it looks like tutoring a child or supporting our work financially.  

 So, let us choose to enter into new stories of hope right here in West Michigan. Let us choose to invest in the life of a child so he or she can reach their dreams to become our future doctors, lawyers, and educators.  

 The image of Zubeda and Fatima standing together reminds us of the hope refugee families seek when they come here. So while countries continue to be at war with each other, let us continue to stand in hope in our own community, in every way we can.  

Stand with us… in hope.  

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We’re Hiring!

We are launching an early childhood project focused on the development of our community’s youngest refugees and are in need of a qualified individual to lead the start-up of our early childhood center. Along with running the center, this position will be heavily involved in mentoring a diverse group of early childhood professionals, including an associate director. For the full position description click here.

Please e-mail your resume and cover letter to info@refugeeeducationcenter.org.

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Planting Deeper Roots Benefit Dinner – You’re Invited!

You are cordially invited to the Refugee Education Center’s “Planting Deeper Roots” Annual Benefit Dinner. We consider it a privilege to work with such amazing families, who have shown such resilience as they create a new place to call home. In order for families become full participants of West Michigan, we believe that we need to provide the right resources for families to plant deeper roots here.

We would love to share more with you about who we are, what we’ve been up to, and where we are going. Help us welcome refugees in our community and support their desire to flourish in their new homes.

The Goei Center
Tickets are $25 per person

OCTOBER 5, 2017
5:30 – 6:30pm  Reception
6:30- 8pm  Dinner & Performance

All contributions will go directly towards advancing programs and impact of the Refugee Education Center in the refugee community. All funds raised will go directly to our Education and Youth Development programs.

Tickets will be available until the week of the event, and will not be available for purchase at the event. Limited quantity available.

Purchase TICKETS here!

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A few months ago, we wrote about one student of ours named Tula. Well this year is his big year to graduate from high school and head out into the world. Last night he did just that. With a glimmer of excitement and pride in his eyes, he walked across the stage to get his diploma. 

For the refugee students and families who have worked so hard to start a new life here in the US — having overcome difficulties with language and gaps in education, transitions in culture and new friendships – it is a milestone accomplishment to graduate from school. 
And here is where Tula’s story comes full circle. Originally from Bhutan, Tula and his family moved to United States 4 years ago from a refugee camp in Nepal.  That year, he started coming to The Refugee Education Center with his brother.  With a determination to work hard and succeed and the support of volunteer tutors, he hit the ground running. The following summer, Tula entered into our Leadership Program, which stretched him to see a larger picture for how he could be influential in helping others.
“He was funny and sarcastic, but always willing to learn,” recalls Susan, our Executive Director. Since that time, Tula has volunteered during the summer to teach other newly arrived refugee students. Last September, he spoke at our 10 year Celebration and organized a dance for the performance.  
Tula graduated alongside two other REC volunteers, Cat and Rachel. Together they represent the future leadership of our community. They understand the value of education lies not in acquiring personal knowledge, but in how information can empower each of us to make our community a better place for all. 
To all the students graduating this year, we congratulate you and wish you all the best in the years to come!
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Embracing the Journey

For Arezo, English was her 5th language to learn when she arrived in the US. As a young girl of 12 years, Arezo had a lot to learn in a new country, not just English. Adjusting to a new culture, navigating the school system, and having to translate for her mother, Arezo had to take on more responsibility than most 12-year-olds. She has big dreams for her future — she wants to be a Doctor. When we asked her where she gets her big dreams from, she said:

“From my mom! When we were going to come here, my mom did it all by herself. She went to Istanbul and she talked for us so we could come here.  She is a strong woman, but now she is sick. If I were a doctor I could help my mom get better. She is the best ever!”

On any typical day her warm smile greets you when she walks through the doors of the Refugee Education Center. With the help of her volunteers, Arezo has been excelling at school. She is a straight “A” student, and making friends everyday.

This summer, Arezo and her family will celebrate their 2nd anniversary at the Refugee Education Center. With your help we can honor her journey and help more students like Arezo to reach their dreams, but it will take hard work. This year alone, you have helped us reach more refugee families than ever before. We are tutoring 68 students on a weekly basis, our highest number to date. The Refugee Education Center has also served over 700 refugee parents and students though our services. Yet, there are still a lot of students who need our support.

Support of refugees in the community happens when we all come together and unify around the cause. For all refugee families in West Michigan to feel welcomed and to thrive, we have to be intentional. Thankfully, our community has been a welcoming community for refugee families for over 35 years. Yet we know that Planting roots in a new place is just not the end of a journey but a new beginning. We believe that now is more important than ever to show up in the life of another and to walk along side their journey. Will you come journey with us?

As always, Thank You.

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Will You Take The Next Step With Us?

Last month, we hosted “Do Good Well,” an event where we addressed the global and national issues that impact refugees here in West Michigan. Over 130 of you came together to learn and discuss how we can better support our refugee neighbors.

Now more than ever, it is important that we show up for refugees living in our community. We have been taking the time to listen to all of you and see how we can best support each other as we work to make West Michigan a welcoming place.

At a recent Refugee Education Center parent meeting, one parent expressed:

Our children need to know that they are safe here. We are no longer living in a war torn country, but our children still struggle to feel safe here. So we need teachers, parents, and other children to make an intentional effort to help us feel safe.”

We are so thankful that refugees live in our community, but we still have a lot of work to do. And we need your help. We want to invite all of you to continue to support refugees in our community by taking action today. 

Here are a few ways you can be a part of the work at the Refugee Education Center:

  • Give monthly: Your commitment of $25 per month provides for one child to attend our summer program. Here they gain valuable socio-emotional support, English Language skills, and so much more. Can you give up one coffee per week to invest in the life of a child? 
  • Create a social fundraiser: Get some friends together and have a car wash, bake sale, or participate in the 5th/3rd River Bank Run! Use your passion for action. Together, you can make a difference.
  • Invite a small group over to your home and we will come be a part of the discussion with you. We would be happy to help you spread the word to your friends and family.

Your financial contributions have already helped tutor 58 students this school year! Thank you for your commitment.

For each and every thing you do, Thank You!


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