Lutheran Services of Georgia recently received a generous, three-year grant from Wheat Ridge Ministries to support the Enhanced Cultural Orientation (ECO) program for newly arrived refugees.
After refugees arrive in the United States, they need support to learn how to navigate U.S. culture and adjust to life in their new communities. Federally-contracted refugee resettlement agencies like LSG are required to cover a checklist of orientation topics. While most agencies cover these topics in a one-day or less "crash course", LSG recognized that this was not enough. In March 2013, LSG launched the Enhanced Cultural Orientation program to better serve refugees.
ECO provides new arrivals with nine intensive cultural orientation workshops over the course of three weeks. Workshops cover essential topics such as US law, housing and personal safety, public transportation, domestic violence laws, US Citizenship and Immigration Services requirements, budgeting and banking in the US, and coping with stress. Childcare is provided, along with interpreters in multiple language, ensuring that participants are able to focus on and understand the lessons.
Along with providing cultural orientation, ECO offers direct food relief in a compassionate, convenient, and culturally-sensitive way. Although refugees are eligible for the temporary Georgia Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) while they seek employment, it can take several weeks before these benefits are approved and can be accessed. With funding from Wheat Ridge Ministries, LSG will give refugees breakfast and a snack during each workshop session. Refugees will also sometimes receive lunch. LSG will either provide grocery store gift certificates or one bag of culturally appropriate staple food items, such as rice, beans, oil, salt, and juice, per week for the first two weeks for each family represented at the workshops.
Unlike many cultural orientation programs, ECO does not separate refugees according to their country of origin. Instead, refugees from various ethnic groups are encouraged to build relationships and learn together, which helps deepen community ties in Clarkston.
Wheat Ridge Ministries is a nonprofit organization that helps health and human care initiatives get off the ground by providing the initial funding and support they need to thrive. LSG thanks Wheat Ridge Ministries for providing funds to support refugees during their earliest days in the United States.