Charity Spotlight: Refugee Development Center

Guiding refugees to self-sufficiency through education and social support.

Refugee Development Center helps refugees become independent members of society by teaching English as a second language, organizing social activities for kids and adults, and forming lasting, supportive relationships.

In this charity spotlight, I spoke with the Executive Director of Refugee Development Center, Erika Brown-Binion.

Origin Story

At the conclusion of the Vietnam War, the United States experienced a major increase of refugees. With a history of supporting people undergoing persecution in their home countries and a desire to continue that support, the U.S. was suddenly faced with the challenge of supporting hundreds of thousands of people seeking asylum.

The Refugee Act introduced in 1980 was a solution to that challenge. The U.S. would provide refugee resettlement to a defined number of refugees and provide time-limited cash and medical assistance, basic case management, English Language training, and employment services.

Between 2000 and 2002 in Lansing, Michigan, Vincent Delgado and Rev. David Thiele raised funds to support refugees beyond that ninety-day window, providing education as long as they were needed.

In 2008, Refugee Development Center became an independent 501(c)(3) and continued to operate administrative offices at St. Luke Lutheran of Lansing (formerly Christ Lutheran Church) until fall of 2016.

Today

The Refugee Development Center is still very much focused on helping refugees become self-sufficient by providing education and social support and they help over 2,300 people each year!

The center’s adult English classes offer English immersion and four levels of instruction to improve reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in conversational and vocational settings. There are also several youth programs such as a summer camp and after-school tutoring to help kids learn English.

RDC also offers many social enrichment programs. These programs help refugees learn new skills, make new friends, and adjust to U.S. culture and include a women’s sewing circle, peer support groups, newcomers soccer team, and Peace Club.

New refugees are visited at their home and given a gift basket by an RDC staff member and a speaker of their native language. Small acts of kindness like this help refugees feel welcome and let them know where they can go if they need support.

Big Wins

Refugee Development Center was able to withstand the recent economic downturn. Erika even saw an outpouring of support from volunteers during this time, and that’s not all. RDC has also improved their outreach efforts to better help the public understand who refugees are.

The center also moved into a new building recently. The new space has allowed RDC to reach more people in part due to its location.

Goals

RDC’s new facility also opens up more opportunities for the organization. Erika would love to double the English as a second language program and add a drop-in center where refugees can receive mentorship and one-on-one support.

A mobile computer lab would also provide refugees with access to technology to help improve English literacy and further remove transportation barriers.

For Nonprofits

When you work for a nonprofit, you have to be flexible. Be willing to reflect on and accept change; it will make your work that much easier. Erika finds this advice to be useful in a lot of domains, and it’s especially true in nonprofits.

Erika also points out that the more deeply you get involved with a nonprofit, the more challenging the work will be. Make sure you believe in the mission and have a passion for what you are doing.

For Volunteers

Everyone at Refugee Development Center started out as a volunteer. Coming back to passion, Erika recommends volunteering as a great way to discover it. You may have to volunteer at a lot of different places before you find something you care so deeply about, but when you do, you will be strengthened by it.

Get Involved

If you want to learn more about Refugee Development Center, you can reach them by clicking one of the buttons below.

Photographs courtesy of Refugee Development Center.