As she entered one of the makeshift classrooms, where during normal times up to 30 students would be found, Denise O’Donoghue found a Refugee Hope Partners staff member doing a happy dance, celebrating with seven refugee children. The cause for the dance—news that their non-profit was selected to receive a $50,000 Lendio Small Business Grant.
Refugee Hope Partners is one of the hundreds of worthy small businesses and organizations that submitted their stories to Lendio, in hopes of being selected for one of 23 small business grants. Ultimately, it was clear which of those deserved the top prize.
In one neighborhood of Raleigh, North Carolina, is an apartment complex that houses nearly 100 refugee families from over 30 countries around the world. Refugee Hope Partners, at any given time, is assisting those refugee families in acclimating and building a new life. Refugees come from all over the world fleeing persecution, war, violence, and a myriad of other challenges.
“One of our newest families, a mother and her two children who moved to Raleigh this summer, came to us after losing their father in Afghanistan,” said O’Donoghue, Operations Director of Refugee Hope Partners. “We later found out that the mother had sold a kidney on the black market in order to feed her children. Unfortunately, now her existing kidney has problems. So we’ve found ourselves working with her to get on a transplant list.”
Arranging for organ transplants is not the norm, but assistance is not limited to any one thing. It comes in many forms, whether that be finding employment, filing for unemployment, arranging for medical services, learning English, or even dealing with car insurance issues. But their main focus remains on the some 130 elementary through middle-school aged children: helping them learn English, assisting with homework, and ensuring they don’t fall behind.
“Our first concern is always education,” continues O’Donoghue. “We worry because the kids can fall behind fast. Immediately children are put into the grade corresponding to their age. This already has them at a disadvantage. Now they are being asked to catch up remotely and with limited access to technology. It’s tearing at our hearts, knowing they will just get further behind.”
The organization is made up of a small army of full-time, part-time, and volunteer staff who help in a variety of ways. But one thing they all have in common is a shared goal of seeing these men, women, and children thrive in their new home.
As with many businesses and organizations, Refugee Hope Partner’s operations came to a screeching halt when COVID-19 hit. Since most of their services involve face-to-face interaction, the staff was forced to find new ways to support their friends.
First, they knew they needed to educate the parents and adults about the pandemic and how to protect themselves and their families’ health. Since so many of the adults work in hospitality or service industries, many found themselves out of a job. The organization worked to ensure that everyone had enough food to feed their families. One staff member became an expert in filing for unemployment in order to help those who needed to apply.
Despite the pain and hardship, the group has celebrated births, high school graduations, first-time home purchases, and new families entering into the community.
The mission and work of Refugee Hope Partners continue to move forward, albeit a little differently and physically distanced. For families who often come from countries where in-home hospitality is a primary cultural practice, this has proven to be one of the more painful parts of the pandemic.
“Not being able to be with a lot of people and hug them, especially the children, has been hard for most of us,” said O’Donoghue. “They want to be loved. And the parents love hosting us in their homes, but for their and our safety, we’ve had to discontinue in-home visits.”
Refugee Hope Partners’ PPP loan, which was facilitated by Lendio, coupled with the Lendio grant, will enable it to move forward without the barrier of financial burden. The organization has already rented another space to accommodate more children for safe and distanced learning. Next, they plan to invest in finding interns who can help volunteer, since many of their older volunteers are in at-risk age groups and staying home for the time being.
No matter what comes its way, O’Donoghue says Refugee Hope Partners will continue its mission of making these residents feel welcome and at home.