For this week’s Hometown Heroes, AY About You talks to Canopy NWA, Arkansas’ only refugee resettlement agency.
Nearly five years ago, a group of people came together in Northwest Arkansas to discuss how they could advocate for refugees in their community.
“At the end of 2015, at the height of the media’s coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis—which is still happening—members of the community in northwest Arkansas gathered to see what they can do to help refugees in their community,” Hannah Lee, Canopy’s director of community engagement, says.
When they met, no refugee resettlement agency existed in the state. Their grassroots efforts became Canopy NWA, whose mission is to welcome refugees to Arkansas and to equip those families with the skills they need to thrive. The organization welcomed its first family in 2016, and has now helped 189 people resettle in Arkansas.
“Our bread and butter is reception and placement, which is through the federal resettlement program,” says Lee. “It’s an intensive program that gets families settled within the first 90-180 days of arriving.”
The reception and placement program helps refugees find their place in the community from the moment that they arrive. Workers with Canopy pick up refugees from the airport and assist them with all immediate needs to start a new life. Canopy assists people in finding secure housing and access to healthcare, as well as enrolling them in classes to learn English as a foreign language. Canopy also helps refugees on their initial job search.
“It’s about making sure that they are financially self-sufficient as quickly as possible,” says Lee.
Adjusting to a brand new life does not end after those first six months, however, and Canopy extends its services up to five years in a program called the Long Welcome. The program concentrates on working with clients so they can achieve their long-term career goals. When they arrive, refugees are placed in jobs that might pay the bills, but are not necessarily their passion. The Canopy’s long-term program focuses on “economic advancement” through both continuing English language education and business skills. The organization recently completed its first-ever educational program called PlanIt!, an entrepreneurship training that prepares students to open their own businesses.
“Participants from this training have a wide range of business plans, from food trucks to auto-mechanics to grocery and clothing stores,” said Lee.
Canopy’s Youth Services program also provides academic and language support to children and helps parents communicate with schools.
Canopy NWA is a non-profit organization and is always looking for volunteers passionate about welcoming refugees into the community. They currently need assistants for the PlanIt Program who are skilled volunteers that would be matched with the entrepreneurs as mentors for a specific profession. For more information on how to get involved with or donate to Canopy NWA, please visit their website and follow them on Facebook.