As refugees face ostracism and persecution in fleeing from natural disasters, violence, war and other hardships, a Kalamazoo College student organization is reaching out with a helping hand.
Refugee Outreach Kalamazoo (ROK) raises awareness of refugees and their struggles, while connecting volunteers with nonprofit organizations that offer displaced people the resources they need. Many Americans might envision refugees as people who live in camps thousands of miles away. But this organization of proactive students sees the needs of local families, and sparks change in Kalamazoo.
The organization has been so well received outside the college that Western Michigan University and Michigan State University have established their own chapters of ROK, with a University of Michigan chapter a possibility. Each chapter cooperates with community and government organizations to accomplish its mission of connecting the community to the global migrant disaster to benefit those displaced. Through education, building relationships, and fundraising they aim to bridge the gap between displaced populations and communities.
Katryn Walsh ‘19 is the president of ROK at K, leading a small-but-determined group of about seven regular Kalamazoo College members, while planning for growth.
“The process of relocating is often times an extremely difficult, disheartening, and tiring process so our hopes are to be supportive and positive for families that have moved to an unfamiliar community,” Walsh said. “As for the volunteers, I believe it is important to raise awareness and educate everyone about refugees and the current refugee crisis in our world right now.”
Cecilia De Boeck ’17, a Kalamazoo College student from Iowa City, Iowa, and an international and area studies major, preceded Walsh as ROK at K’s president. She first was inspired to work with refugees during an internship in the summer of 2015 in Minneapolis. There, she worked at the International Institute of Minnesota, an organization that helps refugees apply for green cards.
“I think this is important because we’re creating a bridge between the displaced population and Kalamazoo,” De Boeck said. “Some cities have done pretty well welcoming refugees, but we’re making sure they’re welcome here.”
De Boeck added she’s looking into one day working as a paralegal, hoping she can do pro bono work for immigrants, refugees and vulnerable populations.
“We’re working to put a face to the refugee crisis by creating a platform for their voices to be heard,” says ROK’s founder Emily Worline said, while mentioning her organization’s effort this year to donate furniture through Samaritas, a social ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in Kalamazoo. “This is an issue that is not going away.”
Such civic engagement is a vital tenet of the K-Plan, Kalamazoo College’s approach to experiential education. What opportunities will you find when you research our student organizations? Learn more about groups such as Refugee Outreach Kalamazoo today.