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School guides refugees through maze of American life

12/13/2016 PennLive By Eric Veronikis

LANCASTER - When refugees land in the U.S., everything is different, Khem Subedi said. 

Whether it's the social system, school and work environments, or the language barrier, foreigners with little to no means need help adjusting to American society, Subedi said.

Subedi, of the Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, helps connect refugees and immigrants to assistance services through the Refugee Center and Community School at Reynolds Middle School. He spoke during center's one-year anniversary celebration at the school Tuesday morning. 

"Assistance services helps support whatever is required for a human being to be in a foreign place," Subedi said. 

Since the center opened at the middle school last year, it has connected 300 children and adults to anything from healthcare and dental services to job placement and community programs aimed at helping them succeed. At 605 W. Walnut St., the school is in Northwest Lancaster, home to the city's largest concentration of refugee families, according to the School District of Lancaster. 

The center aims to support refugees and immigrants who no longer receive services from a resettlement agency and state and federally funded programs, which normally provide assistance for their first 90 days in America. 

The center is open to children and adults from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. There is a full-service health clinic on site, and participants also can find help with food and clothing needs at the school, which also serves as a refugee community meeting center. 

The health clinic is the most frequently used facility at the center, and with 132 students participating, the after-school program also a vital program service. 

After entering the program, those in need work with volunteers called "cultural navigators," who help them open bank accounts, fill out job applications, obtain green cards and more. 

Lancaster has long welcomed refugees, Lancaster School District Superintendent Damaris Rau said during the celebration. The number of participants the center saw during its first year "underscores the connection between our new arrivals and the school district," Rau said. 

Participants include refugees and immigrants from around the globe, including natives of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Cuba, Iraq and Thailand, said Joshua McManness, coordinator of the center and community school. 

The center is a "hub for services," McManness said, adding that a community school brings the outside community and educators together to not only support a child but the whole family

The purpose is "To provide not just academic services, but services before school, after school, on the weekends and in the summer to make sure students and families feel welcomed and supported in a school environment," McManness said. 

The center and community school operates on a roughly $750,000 annual budget funded by the Lancaster School District, the Rotary Club of Lancaster, the United Way and the Lancaster County Community Foundation.

Other organizations, including the IU13, the Literacy Council of Lancaster-Lebanon and SouthEast Lancaster Health Services also are program collaborators. 

Private donations are accepted, and program volunteers are always welcomed. The center saw 103 volunteers spend 3,061 hours helping refugees and immigrants during its first year. For more information on the center, visit the Lancaster-Lebanon IU13 website. 

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