On June 18, the North-East Branch of the Kansas City Public Library hosted the city’s annual World Refugee Day celebration, which brought together community refugee resources, live entertainment, and food for the community members and refugees of the Historic Northeast neighborhoods.
The event commemorated an international day designated in 2000 by the United Nations General Assembly.
“It’s an annual celebration and it is our 16th year doing it here in Kansas City and the second year hosting it here at the library,” said Julie Robinson, Refugee and Immigrant Services Outreach Manager (RISE) for the KC Public Library. “It’s a way of celebrating everybody. We all come from different cultures, and different places, so it’s nice to share everything we have together and learn about each other.”
The event hosted an array of vendors, ranging from Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center, which provides health services and health assistance to refugees and low income families, to Literacy KC, a program that gives families access to literacy and children’s literacy resources.
The event had live music and food trucks that brought the community together to celebrate the stories of the refugees living, not only in the Northeast, but all over the state.
“We tell the stories of refugees,” said Andrea Buley, Community Program Coordinator of Their Story is Our Story. “We are trying to change perception so we can change reception… We want refugees to be seen.”
The overall goal of the festival is to promote a safe environment and, according to Robinson, “to shine a light on the rights, needs, and dreams of refugees, helping to mobilize political will and resources so refugees can not only survive but also thrive.”
A consistent experience shared among the refugee community is the lack of education on how to access resources. The World Refugee Day celebration allowed for a variety of resource providers to come together and advocate for education and the dispersal of resources.
Refugees often experience a lack of English literacy amongst the family, in which Literacy KC provided resources at the festival, providing families access to reading materials and opportunities to learn.
“It allows me to have that personal touch with the community and this allows us to get the word out,” said Briana Blocker, Program Director at Literacy KC. “There are so many people out there that lack literacy and it’s important, and we want to bring back that important literacy to families.”
A massive issue found in the community that was tackled by a vendor at the World Refugee Day celebration is the lack of access to education services. HeadStart, an early education program, focuses on an in-home education model for refugees and immigrants that allows for in-depth education and resource allocation for families.
“Most of my families and my caseload live in the Northeast area and a lot of people we help do not have any idea about resources or how to access services…and how to request their services,” said Virginia Trujillo, a home-based specialist for Head Start and The Family Conservancy. “Our organization provides those resources they need. We provide food, clothing and financial assistance. If a family has everything they need, then there are going to be happy kids, healthy kids, and will have everything they need and that is what matters.”
Multiple services that helped the initial period of arriving in the country and that first step of being grounded in the U.S. were at the event. Local agencies like Della Lamb and Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) provide the first resources that these families may receive.
“We find out who is coming to Kansas City and we help with finding housing and getting them set up with family support services,” said Jessica Rousseau, health education coordinator at JVS. “We are here to support people and get their feet on the ground. Grounding these families is our main goal.”
JVS is asking for donations of feminine hygiene products that will allow the program to provide free menstrual services to refugees in need of supplies.
“We are really focused on feminine hygiene,” Rousseau said. “A lot of the feminine hygiene products we get are tampons and the vast majority of our clients need additional supplies. So we definitely are looking for pads and underwear.”
In addition to JVS, many of the services present at the festival take donations and volunteers, and ask for the Northeast community’s support. Through the experiences found in working with these programs, individuals can learn the stories of the refugees around them and become a part of a bigger story.
“Can you imagine moving to another country and not knowing anything?” Buley said. “It’s a beautiful thing that we can tell their story and that they can become a part of our story. We all share that journey.”
The World Refugee Day celebration is a part of a larger story that allows for refugees to be heard and to be seen by the community around them. It allows for community members to give back to those who need help the most.
“The event means the world for us to be at,” Buley said. “This is the premier event. This event is a celebration of not only what the public does, but most of what the refugees do. Today is twice the size that it was last year and it’s so important to see the public come out and support.”
The event allows for visibility for not only refugees themselves, but also the gracious vendors that fuel the festival.
“I think it’s very important to be active in the community… This event is a chance for us to be seen and to be known that we are available for anything,” said Monte Maple, Refugee Community Health Worker with Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center.
Through any involvement with the World Refugee Day celebration, whether a vendor, a community member, or a refugee themselves; everyone walks away with a story of someone other than themselves.
Stories of individuals in their neighborhood.
Stories of individuals that need assistance and reside in a community eager to provide it.
Stories that bring the Northeast community together.
“A story changes hearts in a way that nothing can,” Buley said.
The event included collaboration from the following vendors and programs: KC for Refugees, the Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center, Kansas City Public Schools, the Lykins Community Center, Literacy KC, the United Nations Association of the USA (UNA-USA), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Church of the Resurrection, Scraps KC, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce including Welcoming KC, the Jewish Vocational Service, Della Lamb Community Services, and other local nonprofits. Visit northeastnews.net for links to each of these services.