Over Winter break, I went with CMU Alternative Breaks Program to Atlanta, Georgia. While there, I volunteered with a group called New American Pathways. This is an organization that directly serves newly settled refugees in the greater Atlanta area. Over the three days that we spent with them, we got to learn about the global refugee crisis, the resettlement process, and the future of immigration and global relations.
The office they operated out of was a part of a complex of other businesses and firms. At the beginning of our service, we helped them organize their storage closets. One collected clothing donations organized by all different kinds and types; shoes, pants, suits, dresses, pajamas- seemingly everything. The other closet housed donations, like books, school supplies, soaps, shampoos, and toothpaste. We organized these closets in separate groups for maybe an hour before finishing in time for an informational session on what New American Pathways does exactly for refugees. We learned that when refugees from other countries are finally accepted into the United States, they have to start from the ground up. One of the NAP coordinators, Alla, told us that immigrants virtually lose all of their accolades and established identities upon entering a new country. For instance, a family she helped resettle through NAP had a member that was a doctor in their home country. Upon coming here, however, it was a struggle to get them an assembly line job in a chicken processing factory. It was Alla’s job to help find this family finds positions that could help them cover their new living as well as accept them into the roles. Hearing these stories made me grateful for people like Alla; people on a mission to support others.
Over the course of the rest of the week, we helped move furniture into apartments for refugee families, mentored elementary students at their after school program, and even got to work directly with the families to help them understand how to pay their taxes and learn useful phrases and terms in English.
We had a bit of time to explore Atlanta, as well. My favorite memory of non-service was when our group ended up in “Little Five-Points” a district in the Atlanta area that is completely covered in art and design. Everything about it was grungy and progressive. We spent a decent amount of time in a feminist bookstore, which we left each carrying a book or sticker.
All in all, I regret not going on more alternative breaks with CMU. The group I went with gave me so much energy and life. The service we did was valuable for the organizations we volunteered with. I cannot think of a better way to end a semester or to begin my holiday.