Building community among refugees, immigrants, and citizens

Thomas Geyer

People's right hands over their hearts holding the American flag.Rock Island is taking the lead in creation of a Quad-City-wide organization that will provide information and direction to immigrants and refugees who are moving into the region.

At a meeting Thursday of "Changing Faces: Refugees and Immigrants in Rock Island" at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Rock Island, the formation of the Quad-City Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, or QCAIR, was announced.

Ed Hanna, president of Neighborhood Partners of Rock Island, explained the initiative to the 200 people who attended Thursday's meeting.

"The mission of QCAIR is to build a community among the Quad-Cities' refugees, immigrants and citizens," Hanna said.

Changing Faces was formed to address the social, economic, educational and cultural concerns of the growing population of refugees and immigrants in Rock Island.

The genesis of QCAIR came from ideas generated by citizen study circles formed by participants in Changing Faces to address the myriad of issues that affect immigrants and refugees.

Comprised of member organizations and individuals who provide services, QCAIR will be an information clearinghouse for refugees and immigrants, the agencies and faith-based organizations, services, Hanna said.

The structure of QCAIR will be modeled after Neighborhood Partners of Rock Island, he added.

"We heard from a number of study circles and the pilot group from the Changing Faces process that they would like to form an organization empowering refugees and immigrant groups similar to how Neighborhood Partners brings together neighborhood associations and related agencies to work for positive solutions," Hanna said.

That Rock Island and other Quad-City area communities have seen a recent influx of refugees from places such Myanmar, Bhutan, and numerous African countries was identified as an issue in 2010.

Amy Rowell, the director of the local office of World Relief, said having services under one roof is the most efficient way to integrate the refugees and immigrants into Quad-City society.

Most importantly, she said, "This is everybody in the community coming together to support one another whether you're different or all the same.

"Rock Island has a pretty good understanding of the issues facing immigrants and refugees to the area, but other cities don't."

The changing faces of Rock Island reflect the changing faces of the Quad-Cities, she said. Refugees and immigrants are continuing to come into the area and need help adjusting.

Patrick Noya, who first came to the United States in 2004 as a student at a South Dakota aviation school, said a one-stop shop, as it were, where immigrants and refugees can obtain information to meet as many of their needs as possible is vital to them succeeding quickly rather than just barely hanging on or failing outright.

"There are so many issues that these new refugees and immigrants experience," said Noya, who went on to attend Illinois Baptist College and now acts as a translator for many African refugees.

Hanna said applications will be taken Jan. 31 for organizations wishing to be inaugural members of QCAIR.

January 13, 2012

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