The Center for Refugee Services was established as an independent 501c3 nonprofit agency in September 2010. The mission of CRS is to promote the wellness, self-sufficiency, and successful community integration of resettled refugees and their families. Two years prior to receiving 501c3 status, Ria E. Baker, PhD. LPC-S, (Licensed Counselor Supervisor) was employed as Director of the Refugee Parent Resource Center, a 2-year grant funded program operated through Communities In Schools from 2008-2010. The program was established to help refugee parents understand and navigate the American school system, and to promote success of their children in school. Realizing that the ongoing needs of refugees were significant, Dr. Baker and a small group of dedicated volunteers decided to form a nonprofit agency to continue their work with refugees once the grant ended. Private donations from churches and individuals provided the funds to pay basic expenses such as rent for an apartment that served as a resource center and office in the heart of the residential neighborhoods where many refugees reside. To date, all of CRS’ staff are volunteers; no one receives a salary for the work they perform. The average volunteer donates 20-30 hours per month serving the needs of the refugee communities.
CRS provides resettled refugees with the following:
- Assistance with basic needs, such as clothing, household items, furniture, food, and referrals to other local social services.
- Educational services to consist of adult practical English classes, tutoring for school-aged children, academic counseling and guidance, career orientation for college students and professionals, educational rights awareness, scholarships, and mentoring.
- Currently, approximately 50 individuals serve as volunteers at CRS performing various tasks such as office assistance, citizenship and ESL instruction, helping maternity clients, individual and family counseling, college admissions and financial aid applications, collaboration with the UT Nursing Students’ Refugee Health Clinic that is held semi-monthly at St. Francis Episcopal Church, scheduling medical appointments. We also collaborate with the SA Food Bank.
- Among our volunteers are master’s level and doctoral interns from local universities majoring in Counseling and Social Work. Many of the interns speak various languages, such as Arabic, Spanish, and Turkish that are helpful to our clients. Translators are also helpful to us as we work with speakers of other languages. There is a lot of mental health distress in the refugee communities and culturally sensitive counseling is a valuable resource, which refugees need but do not understand. We try to reach out to families who struggle with stress and dysfunction. Nowhere will you find a more dedicated group of volunteers and many volunteers are refugees themselves who enjoy helping their neighbors!
Additional annual accomplishments:
- Hundreds of shoes are donated to refugee children through the efforts of UUMC refugee ministry and CRS volunteers.
- School supplies donated at the beginning of each school year.
- Weekly Citizenship classes are facilitated and are well-attended.
- We have ESL classes offered for day or evening students.
- MERC (Making Efforts to Reach Communities) is a viable and important service group of 15-20 refugee youth devoted to service and leadership.
- College scholarships are awarded to high school graduates annually for educational advancement.
- World Refugee Day is an annual big success in June with numerous participants and volunteers in attendance. This annual event is growing each year.