Center helps refugee, immigrant families realize potential

Published: Friday, April 5 2013 5:15 p.m. MDT

"Bring in a totally different culture, totally different language, and it can be really difficult for parents to help their kids understand how to live in this society, let alone themselves," Goldberg said. "So the kids tend to be vulnerable at school, especially if they don't speak the language. They can be picked on because they dress differently a lot of the time. We have a lot of families where the young ladies wear the hijab and cover themselves."

In addition to homework help, the center offers a program to help elementary school children brush up on social skills and take part in recreational activities.

Its teen program offers instruction about the risks of using tobacco, alcohol, drugs and engaging in sex. Teens also learn about domestic violence.

Heba Geiang, who is in the eighth grade, said she gets help with homework and helps mentor younger children at the center. She was born in a refugee camp in Egypt and emigrated to the United States when she was 3 years old.

Heba said she enjoys learning about the backgrounds of other refugee children she meets.

"That's what I want to know about, really. I'm writing a book," she said.

Recently, the center conducted a parent meeting, with the help of interpreters, to hear their perceptions of its programs.

"They told us, 'Our kids have a safe place to go. You guys give them a snack. We know when they're here, they're safe. You help them with their homework. I cannot help them with their homework. I can't even read with them a page.' I was just blown away with the gratitude the parents expressed. It was really touching," Goldberg said.

As much as staff members and community volunteers invest in improving the lives of families and children, Goldberg said she constantly learns from the families the center serves.

One Somali woman, who is a grandmother to some of the children in the Sunnyvale apartment complex and is considered a matriarch by other children, has taught Goldberg about helping children resolve conflicts.

If the children are squabbling about something, "she comes up to kids and kind of gives them this look and holds her hands out in front of her.

"She says, 'No, kids. Peace. Peace." And they get it," Goldberg said.

"I find I learn so much from these families, way more than I could ever teach them," she said.

E-mail: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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