With Syrian refugees beginning to arrive in Lancaster County, next month's formal opening of a refugee help center at a city school is timely.
Already, the Refugee Center and Community School at Reynolds Middle School has been serving refugee families by helping with their educational, health, social and emotional needs.
Reynolds, which is part of the School District of Lancaster, already has about 45 refugee students, or about 8 percent of its roughly 525 student body. Many are Bhutanese-Nepali; others are from Afghanistan and Cuba.
"We're expecting that with the incoming wave of Syrian refugees coming into the community, we will be serving them as they resettle in the area," said Joshua McManness, community school liaison at Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, the lead agency behind the center.
The coalition is a program of the School District of Lancaster, SouthEast Lancaster Health Services, Church World Service, Lutheran Refugee Services, Literary Council and Franklin and Marshall College.
The coalition grew out of a March 2011 conference hosted by F&M that brought together employers, landlords and others who work with refugees to figure how to best integrate refugees here.
The government offers refugee status to people who have been persecuted or fear serious harm and who are of special humanitarian concern to the United States. Refugees are generally people outside of their country who are unable or unwilling to return home.
While the coalition has been helping refugees since earlier this year, on Oct. 7, a community school room and clinic at Reynolds Middle School will open. Renovations of the two rooms are nearing completion.
The community school will offer English instruction, tutoring, workshops for parents to connect to schools, job training and case management, among others.
The community school will also serve students who aren't refugees.
Church World Service's Lancaster County chapter expects to resettle 200 refugees this year, 50 more than last year, and Lutheran Refugee Services, which is based here, expects 150, 30 more than last year.
In Lancaster County the U.S. State Department contracts with Church World Service and Lutheran Refugee Services to resettle refugees.
The agencies provide services for 90 days, but that's not always enough time for refugees to get on their feet here — which is where the coalition comes in.
"There are just a lot of nuances that can't be learned in just those 90 days," said Pam Smith, coordinator of school, family and community partnerships at the School District of Lancaster.
SouthEast Lancaster Health Services will also have a refugee clinic next to the community school room inside Reynolds.
The coalition is funded with $297,500 per year for three years from the United Way of Lancaster, $100,000 from the Rotary Club of Lancaster and $100,000 from the Lancaster County Community Foundation.
More funds are being sought. The money is going to renovations, staff costs and services. The refugee center will also recruit and train volunteers to work with refugees.