Unsheltered event spotlights refugee and Bridge Refugee Services
Members of the Lee University and Cleveland, Tennessee communities gathered in the Rose Lecture Hall to attend “Making a Home in East Tennessee” panel on Thursday, Feb. 23.
The presentation was one of five that have been held over the past month in a series titled “Unbroken: A Christian Response to the Refugee Crisis.”
The night centered around Bridge Refugee Services located in Chattanooga.
Bridge exists to bring dignity, hope, and opportunity to refugees by helping them find employment, learn English, and engage with the community.
Valerie Brite, AmeriCorps Volunteer Coordinator, gave a presentation about the services that Bridge Refugee Services offers and the process of getting off the plane to assimilation to a new life.
Brite explained that Bridge finds temporary housing for the refugee and gets them from the plane to where they will live.
Bridge stocks their kitchen with groceries for a week including ethnically appropriate food and fixes them an authentic meal from their country of origin.
Additionally, they give employment assistance, referrals, orientations, and links to other services.
Mohamed Yahya, a former refugee and a recipient of Bridge Refugee Services, told of his experience coming to Chattanooga.
Yahya explained that he was a native of Sudan. When the civil war began in his country, he fled to Chad, where he became a refugee.
“It was like a prison; we couldn’t go outside the fence,” Yahya said, describing the situation.
Yahya later moved to Libya, and then to Egypt. Eventually, he decided to move to the United States. The immigration process took 18 months to finish.
After flying from Cairo to Chicago, Yahya arrived in Chattanooga.
“They were respectful to the refugee in the way they were dealing with us,” Yahya said of Bridge.
He described how comforting it was to have people meet him at the airport and take him to a furnished apartment.
Soon after he arrived, Yahya began working. While he was working, Yahya took English classes in the evening, sometimes taking up to six classes every night.
Yahya eventually got a GED and is now registered as a student at a community college. Additionally, Yahya got engaged a few months ago.
Freshman Kaelan Byrd explained why she came to the event.
“I’ve always been passionate about social justice issues; I’m in the Intercultural Studies Program,” Byrd said.
Bridge, the only resettlement agency in Chattanooga, opened in 1996 as a sub office of Bridge Refugee Services in Knoxville.
A member of the Cleveland community, Nancy Tanner, was told about the Unsheltered series by a friend.
Tanner went to four out of the five events and explained why she was in attendance.
“[It’s] the fact that there is a community that wants to respond. We aren’t all individuals saying ‘somebody should do something.’ We pull together and actually do something,” Tanner said. “And to link together with groups like Bridge that have it in place and we can feed in with our abilities and strengths.”
When asked what she had learned, Tanner responded that she had received something more than just information.
“Just getting names and contacts, what they need. When you start thinking, Wow, they just need somebody to drive from here to there. It’s just so basic. They need everything when they come,” Tanner said.
Tanner said she sees herself getting involved with Bridge in the near future.