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Through a whole of organization effort, World Learning and the School for International Training’s New Vermonter Education Program (NVEP) provides temporary housing, English language, and cultural orientation programming for refugees in southern Vermont in partnership with the Ethiopian Community Development Council, Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, and the Tutorial Center in Bennington, Vermont. NVEP has supported hundreds of refugees from Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Guatemala, Ukraine, and Yemen.

In this Article:

  1. Purpose for the Program
  2. Key to the Success of the Program
  3. Key Actors and Participants
  4. Impact and Outcomes
  5. Implementation Steps
  6. Challenges Faced
  7. Resources and Partnerships
  8. Looking to the Future
  9. Contact and Additional Resources

1. Purpose for the Program

The number of people displaced by war, persecution, violence, and human rights violations globally is likely to have exceeded 114 million at the end of September, according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. World Learning & the School for International Training, are committed to building a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world. Both organizations believe that supporting refugees – whether through the provision of housing, educational opportunities, or other channels available to an institution such as ours – clearly contributes to that mission.

Refugee resettlement and NVEP address Vermont’s urgent demographic & employment challenges. Vermont badly needs new residents for its workforce and to reinvigorate many of its smaller communities. Between 2010-2018, 10,000 more people left the state than moved there and the population is much older than the US overall. Vermont also ranks fourth in the nation in states struggling to find workers for open job positions. According to a recent article in a local publication called The Commons, Vermont has between 18,000 and 20,000 available positions at any one time. Welcoming refugees has been a central part of the state’s efforts to reverse the declining population, with current Governor Phil Scott repeatedly calling for more refugees to be resettled in Vermont.  

Finally, with a tight housing market being experienced nationwide, particularly in Vermont, refugees cannot enter directly into permanent housing. Our program addresses this problem by providing transitional housing for refugees. This allows our resettlement agency partners much-needed time to find permanent housing and allows New Vermonters to save money for a security deposit and the first/last month of rent. To date, World Learning and SIT have hosted more than 240 Afghan refugees on our campus in Brattleboro, housing them for anywhere from a few weeks to several months until more permanent housing options could be secured.

2. Key to the Success of the Program

SIT is a unique higher education institution with students at learning centers in more than 40 countries across the globe. Our campus in Brattleboro, VT had excess residential capacity which matched perfectly with our educational expertise and experience around English language learning, a factor that is critical for successful refugee resettlement and long-term integration. World Learning has additional expertise that is highly relevant to the needs of refugees: TESOL, basic education (literacy and numeracy), social & emotional learning, higher education, workforce training, and cross-cultural communication/understanding.  

SIT and World Learning have a track record of experience and impact in refugee support. The Experiment welcomed Hungarian refugees to our Vermont campus in the 1950s and later became a primary national training site for outbound Peace Corps volunteers. From 1979 to 1996, The Experiment and SIT were part of a consortium of organizations that delivered skills assessment, English language learning, and cultural orientation programs to more than 250,000 refugees in Southeast Asia in what was the largest refugee resettlement effort in U.S. history.

Our distinctive approach to rural resettlement prioritizes practicality. Unlike other methods, our model requires individuals to gather on campus initially, streamlining essential resettlement services such as enrollment in benefit programs, cultural orientation sessions, and vaccine clinics. This centralized approach overcomes the logistical challenges of providing these crucial services to residents scattered across the region without reliable transportation. The Moover plays a key role in ensuring residents have access to downtown Brattleboro throughout the week, with efforts underway to extend access during weekends.

What World Learning offers is what is needed now: empowering refugees and their families to flourish, thereby contributing to the societies and economies of the communities in which they live in. Our ‘secret sauce’ in this space is the combination of our commitment to experiential learning approaches that center and empower refugees with our long history of building intercultural understanding between communities.   

3. Key Actors and Participants

The beneficiaries consist of refugees being resettled in the United States through the Reception and Placement Program (USRAP).

Tim Rivera, Senior Advisor for Innovation & Strategy, leads the initiative. He oversees a collaborative team drawn from various institutional departments, including Global Programs, Facilities, Finance, Business Development & Partnerships, Marketing & Communications, General Counsel/Compliance, and External Engagement & Advocacy. Together, this cross-departmental team is dedicated to implementing and advancing this unique initiative focused on providing refugees with both critical educational opportunities and housing support. The program has grown with the ongoing support of the Board, the CEO, and the leadership of Global Programs and SIT.

Key Partners: 

Our key partners include the Ethiopian Community Development Council, Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, Vermont Adult Learning, and the Tutorial Center in Bennington, Vermont. World Learning/SIT’s funding partners include the Office of the State Refugee Coordinator in Vermont as well as the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation. The Program also benefited from the significant support of the community through dozens of volunteers.

 

5. Impact and Outcomes

  • Between January 2022 and January 2024, more than 240 refugees have spent some time living on the SIT campus before moving into permanent housing. 98% of all refugees move to permanent housing within four months.
  • More than 96% of all refugees who have been resettled in Vermont have chosen to stay (as opposed to out-migrating to other parts of the United States).
  • As of January 2024, 83% of all job-seeking refugees who have arrived in the region are employed with the remaining 17% currently being placed in jobs or actively participating in educational programs that will directly increase their employability.
  • 49 employers have hired refugees since January 2022 at an average wage of $19.07 which is $5.40 higher than Vermont’s minimum wage.
  • Refugees in the region are now making $3.7 million per annum in taxable wages, much of which is going back into the local economy through retail, services, and housing.
  • More than 60 refugees, including dozens who are pre-literate in their own native languages, remain in English language learning courses to improve their ability to navigate daily life in Vermont and, for those interested, their employability.

Having refugees on campus has added to its vibrancy, offering a place for members of the broader community, whether as volunteers or ordinary citizens, to meet and engage with their New Vermonter neighbors. The campus has been host to several events linking New Vermonters with the community, from a Nowruz celebration in spring 2022 to a “Trunk-or-Treat” Halloween event in 2023 introducing refugee children to a local holiday and tradition.

The impact on the community and the region has been profound. With a population of roughly 12,000 and a New Vermonter community of more than 200, more than 1.6% of Brattleboro’s population is now refugees. In addition to the economic impact of their presence in the community, New Vermonters are leaving an indelible (and welcome) cultural impact on the community as well. One such example are the ArtLords, a collective of muralists from Afghanistan who have put up several pieces of art (some temporary, some permanent) around Brattleboro.

6. Implementation Steps

The very thing things to do is to determine whether your community has a refugee resettlement organization. Check this map to find out! Here are a few steps to implement a similar program:

  1. Assess if your mission, values, and history align with refugee resettlement.
  2. Review resources such as the Ahlan Manual from Every Campus A Refuge, which aims to build welcoming infrastructure on campuses and local communities.
  3. Conduct a needs assessment in your city, county, or community. What strengths can your organization bring to refugee resettlement work? 
  4. Generate buy-in from your organizational leadership. Consider senior leaders, the board of trustees, etc.
  5. Find a UNHCR partner near you, or work towards becoming one.
  6. Search for grants or partnerships available in the community of interest. 

7. Challenges

There are a few challenges that others should be aware of: 

  • Securing funding for temporary housing poses a considerable challenge, as it is not part of the federal government’s framework for refugee resettlement. Fortunately, the Program accessed emergency rental assistance funds from the COVID-era, received one-time support from the Office of the Vermont State Refugee Coordinator and garnered support from private donors. Ongoing efforts involve actively pursuing additional funding from both public and private sources to sustain our housing initiatives. Every institution must look at its own context to find ways forward. 
  • Furthermore, the transition for many refugees from one communal living arrangement (e.g., a refugee camp) to another (residing in a hall with shared kitchens and bathrooms) may present challenges in establishing norms that accommodate diverse cultures. Managing this adjustment, such as the prohibition of indoor smoking, requires careful consideration and cultural sensitivity.

8. Resources and Partnerships

Financial: Long-term, predictable commitments of funding for temporary housing and programmatic needs. 

Staff: World Learning and SIT created a cross-organizational team of individuals from across programs, facilities, external engagement, and others. Such horizontal collaboration is necessary to ensure operational alignment on a number of fronts.

Physical plant: In total, World Learning and SIT have leveraged anywhere from 5 to 7 different residence halls (with varying capacities), classrooms, and event spaces on our campus to support this initiative.

Partners: This initiative would not be possible without a partnership with a refugee resettlement agency – in our case, the Ethiopian Community Development Council. In addition, our strong relationship with the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation was also critical for connecting with other community partners and state agencies relevant to resettlement. While the Program didn’t have very much time to develop or implement systems in advance of refugees’ arrival in the region, these important coordination mechanisms and systems are critical to develop with partners from the outset.

Other: World Learning and SIT thankfully have many years of experience delivering English language learning programming to a wide range of learners in global contexts, including through the MA in TESOL offered through SIT. A number of emeriti faculty from that program have remained in southern Vermont and have dedicated a good bit of their time and expertise in support of NVEP. In addition, Every Campus A Refuge served as an important source of guidance and inspiration as this journey started, including through the provision of a template Memorandum of Understanding as WL and SIT pursued a partnership with ECDC.

9. Looking to the Future

World Learning’s work in refugee education and resettlement has grown rapidly from late 2021 to the present, and want to make this ‘startup’ initiative truly sustainable.

Our primary focus is directed toward securing sustainable funding sources for transitional housing, underscoring our commitment to providing stable and supportive living arrangements for refugees. Concurrently, the Program is dedicated to expanding our English language learning programs with more hours of instruction, preparing New Vermonters for higher education experiences, and a particular emphasis on the introduction of vocation-specific English courses. 

10. Contact Information

Name: Tim Rivera
Title: Senior Advisor, Innovation and Strategy
Organization: World Learning
Phone Number: (202) 408-5420

Additional information and resources:

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