Duval County Student Refugee Program in jeopardy of closing

Five dollar donation could help keep it open

JACKSONVILLE, Fla – Every year dozens of refugees settle in Jacksonville from other countries.  They're brought her legally, many times fleeing persecution in their homeland. 

For younger refugees, becoming integrated in American culture and schools can be difficult.  But there's a program in Duval County that makes that transition easier.  The problem is it's in jeopardy of shutting down.

Hewan Gabriel is 15 years old. Her entire family resettled to Jacksonville from Uganda three years ago.  She remembers those first days at school in America.

"Life was hard I didn't know what to do especially when I went to school," says Gabriel.

She was born a refugee and lived in a camp for the first ten years of her life. She was able to attend school there but remembers what would happen when she'd make mistakes.

"Put a Pencil and take another pencil and they start rolling it's terrible. Your hands start getting bruises and start to get dark," says Gabriel.

Here in American there was no punishment just confusion.

"Teacher was trying to explain but I don't get anything I'm like lost," says Gabriel.

Then the light came on when she met the staff at Lutheran Social Services with people like Kasey Guenther who understood her challenges.

"Somebody finally comes to you and helps you and you feel so happy.  That's how a felt, I felt so happy because you have someone besides me, they treated me like family," says Gabriel.

"It's very rewarding to see them develop and grow so quickly the kids bring a lot of joy they're very resilient they're very happy to be in the United States ready and willing to learn," says Guenther.

Kasey Guenther works closely with Hewan she's with LSS. The program has helped local teen refugees for 16 years.  It provides tutoring in math, speaking  reading and writing English.  Thanks to this program 99 percent of these students stay in school.  But the organization recently lost a long time grant and is in jeopardy of shutting down.

"Without that extra support service there's always a huge risk that our teens will drop out of school.  They may decide it's just too difficult I don't want to do it and I don't want to try anymore because they're already, maybe, so far behind," says Guenther,

Right now the program needs 50,000 dollars by the end of the month to keep running.  They're trying to get the word out If just 5,000 people donate ten dollars each it can happen.  Hewan credits LSS for opening her eyes to unimaginable opportunities. She wants to go to college and become an actress.

It's an investment Guenther passionately believes is worth it.

"You never know what's going to trigger a student to inspire them to want to do more, that is going to help them exceed beyond high school.  We really want them to develop into successful adults," says Guenther.

Donations are needed right now.  You can make a donation at WeUnderstandJax.com. If they don't raise 50,000 by June 30th the program will shut down.  They're asking for any donation, big or small, to keep it running.

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