Making a difference: Organization mentors immigrants, refugees


by Alex Kirkpatrick, Digital Editor

A new organization on campus, the Youth Immigrant and Refugee Mentorship program, is seeking to make a difference in the lives of the immigrant and refugee population in the Des Moines area.

The program partners with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and Des Moines Catholic Charities, which are both resettlement agencies for refugees and immigrants.

Beginning in the spring semester, students in the Youth Immigrant and Refugee Mentorship program will be partnered with school-aged immigrants and refugees in the Des Moines public school system.

Simpson mentors will build a friendship with their mentee by enjoying various activities at least once a week, ranging from doing homework or taking a trip to the library to going to the movie theater.

Founder Celena Krause, who is majoring in international relations and political science, said she was inspired to start the organization after she interned with the USCRI last spring.

“I want Simpson students to be able to experience the diversity the immigrant and refugee population brings to the Des Moines area while making a difference in the lives of immigrant and refugee youth,” Krause said.

The organization started after more than half the nation’s governors, including Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, said they oppose allowing Syrian refugees into their states.

“While this issue is very important to the nature of this program and to our partners, the Youth Immigrant and Refugee Mentorship Program will touch many people who have already been granted immigrant or refugee status by the federal government,” Krause said.

President and CEO of USCRI Lavinia Limón said in a statement, “Governors stating they will not allow refugees in their states is un-American and against the law. Profiling and screening solely on the basis of religious or racial characteristics would, in our view, be discriminatory and inappropriate. Freedom of movement is a constitutionally protected right of all persons and it has consistently been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

These sentiments are echoed by some Simpson students.

“I’ve heard how it’s hard for them to come here as refugees and how it’s hard for the government to accept (the refugees) into the U.S., which I think is a bad thing,” said Dafne Soto, an elementary education major. “I mean, they’re running from war and bad things, and they’re just looking to be safe. For the government to make it difficult for them, I don’t think it’s a good thing. We should be welcoming.”

Freshman Suzie Dunya, who comes from Accra, Ghana, agrees, saying the government should raise efforts in accepting refugees.

“Turning our backs on them is not going to help them, so (the government) should do all they can to give them shelter or just accept them,” Dunya said. “I wouldn’t want to be in a place where I’m not accepted, but they don’t have a choice. To alienate them like that is not right.”

Sophomore Travis Tupper said his opinion is neutral, but feels the topic of immigration is new and upcoming.

“I feel like it is good to have a diverse culture and opportunities here and share what the United States has to offer, but to what point does that become a problem where it has to be stopped?” Tupper said.

The Youth and Refugee and Immigrant Mentorship Program seeks to assist in the transition of refugee and immigrant youth at an individual level, according to their mission statement.

Students will go through an orientation before they are partnered with a mentee.

Meetings on campus will be held throughout the spring semester to guide students through their mentorship and provide an opportunity for reflection and to have questions answered.

Krause said the time spent with a mentee counts as service.

“This is a great way to impact your community and keep up on your Wesley Service Scholar hours,” she said.

Tolerance of other cultures is a character trait that will serve Simpson students throughout their entire lives, Krause said.

“In my time with USCRI, I learned so much about others, was invited to eat with multiple families and gained a deep appreciation for the grateful and amazing people I had the opportunity to work with every day,” Krause said.” “I want to share these opportunities with all of you.”

Because the spring semester is the debut for the Youth Immigrant and Refugee Mentorship Program, the organization is accepting applications for the following chairs: vice president, opportunity developer and media relations.

The organization will have a booth at Org Fest on Wednesday, Jan. 13 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the Black Box in Kent Campus Center.

If any students are interested, they are asked to submit a cover letter and resume to [email protected] by Feb. 2.