Church World Service (CWS) Durham, a non-profit organization that opened in 2009, is part of the global organization Church World Service that formed in 1946 in the wake of World War II. Today, its goal is nearly the same as it was 73 years ago – to help refugees resettle in America. When CWS Durham began resettling refugees a decade ago, they had been working closely with other partners in the Durham area and different factors aligned to demonstrate the need for a branded office in Durham.
CWS’s resettlement program is considered a core tenant of United States foreign policy and a humanitarian obligation. The program developed, and is still honored today, as a public-private partnership, with the Federal government providing a portion of the funding for resettlement. Private organizations and other CWS partners work together to welcome refugees, get them established, and help them build a foundation.
Through a community partner referral or word of mouth, CWS Durham serves refugees who move to Durham. Other refugees are channeled through the United States State Department and then the CWS national office, an office that looks at demographic information, language and unique case needs (e.g., single parents, mental, or physical health) to determine the community to best serve the refugee.
Partnership with Duke University School of Nursing (DUSON) presents a unique opportunity for refugees to resettle in Durham due to access to health care and the existing support networks.
Working to ensure refugees are not judged by their circumstances is foundational to the program. Refugees who arrive in the area need many services and assistance—English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, employment, a home, children enrolled in school and documentation. CWS Durham has expanded many of their ongoing support services to become more sophisticated through working to ensure long-term employment with vocational training and education. They also provide case management, mental health care and help navigating the United States health care system. “The comprehensive set of supports provides them the opportunity to thrive, not just survive,” says Ellen Andrews, NC Area Director, Immigration & Refugee Program.
CWS Durham works with refugees to provide focus and encouragement towards upward mobility and partnerships are key to make that happen. CWS partners with Durham Technical College, other community organizations providing ESL classes, and encourages refugees to take advantage of vocational training. They work in partnership with local schools to keep refugee students in high school and get them access to education. Teenagers with a high school diploma or GED may opt for continued education through Durham Tech or a four-year school.
DUSON partners with CWS Durham through implementation of their women’s group. Irene Felsman, DNP, MPH, RN, C-GH, assistant professor; was instrumental in establishing the women’s group at CWS Durham. For more than five years, Felsman and DUSON students have been critical to the success of the weekly group, a group that is participant directed. The women in the group decide on the topics for discussion—health, family planning, stress management, mental health and community outings—with DUSON students planning and leading the classes. This group is among the most popular of all CWS Durham activities because it brings happiness to the participants.
A number of CWS Durham employees are refugees who are committed to resettlement, CWS and the refugees they serve, making the office a dynamic, unique and fun place to work. Andrews says there are no two days the same, and she prefers it that way. She feels lucky to be in Durham, describing the city as an amazing place to resettle refugees because the community is inclusive and there is a great working relationship with international populations, elected and government officials and community volunteers. According to Andrews, “The community partnerships are unique in that CWS Durham has a strong network of committed professionals and service providers who care about making Durham a great place to live including, but not limited to refugees. It reflects how highly Durham is thought of – it is important for us to make Durham a great place to live.”
If you are interested in volunteering or learning more about CWS Durham, go to www.cwsrdu.org. There is availability for volunteers to meet with refugees once or twice a week to be an English language partner and community guide. Volunteers can also form a welcome team to set up apartments for incoming refugees. We recognize and congratulate DUSON ABSN students Liane Lau and Amanda Mulligan for their leadership and commitment in volunteering with CWS Durham to welcome a family from Central African Republic.