Ambitious and passionate in what she does. That’s how friends of senior Lydia Schooler describe her. It was her passion and her life changing experience at Hopeprint that inspired her to start the Refugee Outreach club here at Jamesville-DeWitt High School.
The Refugee Outreach club is actually a group of clubs with chapters at three different schools: Manlius Pebble Hill School, Fayetteville-Manlius High School, and J-DHS. Schooler started the program last February, and over the summer mentored other students to help them set up the clubs at their own schools. The purpose of the club is to connect students with Hopeprint, a refugee organization in the area. Hopeprint’s motto is “empowering resettled refugees to thrive.” They do that by mentoring newly arrived refugees on how to adjust and do well in their new lives, and also connect them to resources in the area which can help them to achieve this. Hopeprint’s goal is essentially to befriend refugees in Syracuse and help them to adjust to their new lives. Hopeprint’s website asks the community to “Think of (us) as the guides and fellow journeymen along the pathway from a life of survival to a life of thriving.”
Members of the refugee outreach club volunteer at Hopeprint to learn more about the refugees in the greater Syracuse area,become close friends with some of those refugees, and participate in events such as Hopeprint’s winter clothing drive. “I volunteered(by) helping kids with their homework last year, and this year I‘m going to start teaching and helping refugee kids improve their literacy,” said senior Michelle Pan, a member of the club. The club also hopes to begin fundraising for Hopeprint this year.
Before moving to J-DHS, Schooler lived in Berlin, Germany, where she went to an international school. There, she found herself surrounded by the children of businesspeople, diplomats, and CEOs. When she moved to Syracuse in 2014, Schooler began volunteering at Hopeprint. “I missed hearing Hebrew in the halls, and going to my friend’s house to eat Serbian dishes,” said Schooler. She says her decision to join Hopeprint stemmed from missing the diversity she saw in her previous school.
Schooler describes her experience at Hopeprint as very “perspective changing.” The people she interacted with were a much poorer group than those she had encountered in Berlin. “It was a similar perspective, but an entirely different one at the same time,” said Schooler. “Now it’s the doctors who had to flee their homes, or the teachers who had to flee their homes, or the kids who lived in refugee camps their whole lives.”
The people that she met, both members of the organization and the refugees themselves welcomed her with open arms. “You are invited into people’s homes, you get to try their food, hear their stories, learn their languages, (and) the kids are hilarious,” said Schooler. “I had such an impactful and positive experience there that I really wanted to share that experience to other people in my school.”
Syracuse is a very important city to the refugee population in America. Onondaga County has the third highest rate refugees per capita, with a total of 10,000 refugees according to Schooler. These refugees come primarily from the African Great Lakes region, including countries like Burundi, and Congo, as well as a large population of Burmese, Bhutanese, Nepali, and Somali refugees. As of this summer, Syrian refugees have begun coming as well. “A lot of people don’t know how many refugees we have in Syracuse, and how central Syracuse is to the refugee population in America,” said Schooler. A major goal of the club is to raise awareness, and to get more and more people involved and educated about the situation in Syracuse.
About 15 students generally show up to meetings, which are on Tuesdays in the high school Counselling Center, but many students are involved at various levels. It can be enjoyable at any level of commitment. “There really isn’t anything I dislike about it,” said Pan. The Refugee Outreach club is a club where you can get as involved as you want to. Whether you want to volunteer at Hopeprint one time, or every day of the week, there’s something for everyone.