Echoing laughter filled the room as children of all ethnicities gathered around tables and began coloring pictures. Student volunteers’ laps were filled with smiling children playing with markers and books.
World Relief After School Program volunteers seek fun and easy ways to ensure that refugee children from around the world make a smooth transition into a new country and culture.
A refugee is someone who has been forced out of his or her homeland and flees to a foreign country to escape danger, persecution or war, World Relief worker Christina Geisler said.
World Relief is a faith-based organization that resettles refugees and empowers them to become self-sufficient, she said.
According to Geisler, an average of 1300 to 1500 refugees are placed in Tarrant County each year, and many of them are children.
“Their parents are sacrificing the most so their kids can have a better future,” Geisler said. “But the children’s adjustment time is much different because of the education system.”
That’s where the After School Program comes in.
Excitement in the air skyrocketed as freshly baked cookies quickly made their way down the art-covered table and into the children’s mouths.
After School Program consists of five dedicated student volunteers and about 20 refugee children that meet every Wednesday afternoon at the Fountains apartment complex, where the children live with their families, senior speech pathology major Kaitlyn Turney said.
During the program, children make art and crafts, color pictures and on sunny days, play sports outside, Turney said. The volunteers also offer homework help.
“The language barrier is the hardest part,” Turney said. “If they don’t understand something on their homework, we try to explain it in a way that they do.”
The After School Program began last February after Turney met some of the refugee children at Southcliff Baptist Church, she said.
Turney said that when she looked into the programs World Relief offered at the Fountains, there were not many for kids and decided to start something on her own.
Geisler said that Turney contacted her at World Relief and shared her ideas for the program. Shortly after, World Relief After School Program was in full swing.
Sophomore early childhood education major Laura Robertson said she started volunteering as a way to spend time with children. After getting to know the refugee children, Robertson saw that they were vulnerable and needed love and care beyond what they were receiving at home, she said.
“The children are dealing with many barriers with trying to fit in,” Robertson said. “I love being able to help them grow into their language skills and feeling comfortable in such a new and different place.”
Turney is graduating in May and hopes that university students will continue the program after she graduates.
“It’s a good environment for the children to learn and acclimate,” Turney said. “At the same time, it teaches us cultural awareness.”