This summer, refugee youth in Lowell, Massachusetts and Manchester, New Hampshire who participated in IINE programs throughout the year had the opportunity to stay engaged during the school break. With staff and volunteers, they explored their local communities, practiced their English skills, learned about art and science, and formed deeper bonds with their peers.
“That was really nice. I met a lot of people and made new friends,” writes Farah, a 14-year-old from Afghanistan practicing her English in a tutoring session. “My favorite activity was planting the pots. It was so fun and I love the nature, which makes me happy.”
Farah is one of twenty young refugees who have spent much of their summer with IINE in Lowell, not only working on their English, but also, sewing, swimming and playing sports at a local YMCA, practicing yoga in a dedicated youth space in the Lowell office, and taking field trips to local spots like Lowell’s New England Quilt Museum.
They’ve also been making art—the “planting pots” activity that Farah enjoyed took place over two weekly “Art Afternoons.” While listening to music, eating snacks, sipping tea, and mingling, participants were guided by an IINE community volunteer and a summer intern in decoratively painting two pots. In one pot they planted herbs—choosing from parsley, sweet basil, coriander, and chives—which IINE will plant in a community garden. In the second, they potted spider plants, which each participant was able to take home with them.
The refugee youth taking part in Art Afternoons and other summer activities range in age from 14-20 (and sometimes bring younger siblings along to join the fun) and have come to the U.S. from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti and Syria. They are drawn from IINE’s year-long programs, Refugee Youth Mentoring and Youth Goal, in which they are matched with volunteer mentors, who help them set, pursue, and achieve their educational and career goals. They also participate in peer support groups, like a group especially for Afghan women, and workshops in which members of the local community present on education, work opportunities, and skill-building.
As refugees, these youth have all experienced early trauma, and given their language and economic barriers, can feel isolated in their new communities. IINE Youth Services Manager Isabel Goes developed IINE’s summer programming to keep them engaged, help them practice their English, and encourage them to socialize and make friends.
“The biggest thing was building community bonds with our youth—reducing isolation when resettlement starts,” says Goes, “and we’ve seen clients form close bonds this summer, which will be useful during the fall. We have tutoring twice per week which helps with English, but it’s also nice to have informal conversations during activities and see how far clients can get with what they know so far. It also opens the door if youth need any guidance during this time.”
While Goes also cites the potted plant activity as a highlight, she is particularly excited for what she has planned to cap off the summer. “There have been a lot of requests for a bake-off or a cook-off with IINE staff as judges! We also want to reserve space in the park for an end-of-summer celebration with yard games.”
Manchester, New Hampshire
Meanwhile, IINE staff at our Manchester site planned an equally fun summer for the children and youth engaged in our Refugee School Impact program, which supports newly arrived refugees in navigating the Manchester public school system.
IINE School Impact Coordinator Jamie Suarez partnered with Southern New Hampshire University’s Center for New Americans Amika Youth Program, helping to plan summer field trips to state parks, amusement parks, and more during the school break.
IINE has had a great relationship with the program for several years, and Suarez says, “This is a new expansion to our shared goal of giving refugee youth great experiences and keeping the kids educationally engaged throughout the summer months. We are providing additional funding to their existing program so they can take more kids and expand on their field trip experiences.”
Among other fun activities, youth had a blast at Dupont Splash Pad and Chucksters mini-golf, found inspiration at the Currier Museum of Art, and enjoyed hands-on learning experiences at the SEE Science Center.
“Summer programming at the SNHU Center for New Americans was an absolute blast,” says Center for New Americans Program Coordinator Aloyo Lidia Yen. “The kids enjoyed new experiences with field trips to places some had never been before, mini golf, beach trips, movies, and more! Thank you, IINE, for helping make this happen.”
Volunteer mentors and tutors help our refugee youth clients to practice English, complete school assignments, prepare for interviews and exams, and more. If you are interested in volunteering with our youth, visit our Get Involved webpage.