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Friends of Refugees: Serving Christ, helping the foreigner feel at home

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The Refugee Sewing Society allows women to sew their family clothes or make items for sale in their store at Clarkston International Bible Church. Many of the women and their family members escaped war and genocide by fleeing their native lands. JOE WESTBURY/Index

This is the third and final part of a series on Pat Maddox and how she came to found Friends of Refugees (FOR) over the course of a decade. A faith-based organization with 25 partner churches, FOR continues to house many of its ministries at Clarkston International Bible Church. To see the original story on Pat Maddox and her call to missions, click here. To see an introduction to Friends of Refugees, click here. To learn of a groundbreaking proposed partnership between the congregation and the North American Mission Board, click here.

The following is an overview of services provided by Friends of Refugees, a faith-based group operating out of Clarkston International Bible Church.

According to the 1951 Geneva Convention, a refugee is a person with a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality, and unable or unwilling to return to it.

From 1996 to 2001, more than 19,000 refugees were resettled in Georgia, most of them in Clarkston. It brought change that challenged members of Clarkston Baptist Church to examine their commitment to biblical teachings such as suddenly ministering to the foreign mission field in their backyard. And from that sensitivity, member Pat Maddox put herself in the plight of those refugees and founded a ministry which eventually became known as Friends of Refugees.

“Clarkston is truly unique; more than 90 unreached people groups from among the Nations have come to live in this place, and the church has a unique chance to disciple new neighbors who have never encountered the gospel of Christ,” explains FOR Executive Director Brian Bollinger.

Brian Bollinger oversees the Friends of Refugees (FOR) and its partnership with 25 different evangelical churches. FOR was founded by Pat Maddox, a member of what is now Clarkston International Bible Church. Maddox, who will be 79 in July, is still involved but has handed the ministry over to a younger generation to continue its outreach to refugees. JOE WESTBURY/Index

“But this is not just about equipping native-born Americans to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

“FOR wants to see those we serve today become those who serve beside us tomorrow. And, we also want to empower our local ethnic congregations to become the leaders and drivers of that ‘welcome’ to the Nations and the next generation.”

Last year FOR served more than 5,700 people with the help of 21,000 volunteer hours. As a member of the Christian Community Development Association, it uses a holistic approach to serving families and inviting everyone in the community to be part of the story. This broad base of community volunteers brings together partners from 25 churches, 20 community organizations, 12 foundations, 10 corporate partners, and over 400 individual donors.

The following is an overview of the ministry and shows the creative ways volunteers and interns can be involved. Susan McDaniel, a member of Briarlake Baptist Church, serves as volunteer coordinator and can be reached at volunteer@friendsofrefugees.com.

Refugee Career Hub (formerly Café Clarkston)

Refugees are tutored on how to apply for employment through Cafe Clarkston, now known as Career Hub: Clarkston. The ministry was the brainchild of former longtime Clarkston International Bible Church pastor Phil Kitchen. He identified employment as one of the most urgent needs encountered by refugees needing to support themselves and their families. JOE WESTBURY/Index

This walk-in employment and online assistance center provides technology, learning, and networking. The ministry successfully transitions hundreds of workers into living-wage jobs annually. Services include resume building, online application assistance, job readiness classes, job fairs, computer classes, and mentorship. It was the brainchild of former Clarkston Baptist Church pastor Phil Kitchin who saw the need for employment training among refugees flooding into the community around the church.

Embrace: Refugee Birth

This ministry offers pregnancy, birth and postpartum classes that provide understanding of the U.S. birth experience for refugee women. Volunteers are paired with a refugee mother to journey alongside as an advocate and friend. Refugee women are also trained to serve as childbirth assistants and educators within their own ethnic communities.

Jolly Avenue Community Garden

Refugees have made the Jolly Avenue Community Garden seem a little closer to home with a makeshift signpost. A total of 104 individual family plots allow refugees to grow their own crops to maintain their native comfort food tastes. JOE WESTBURY/Index

This community garden is a space that empowers 104 families to grow their own food, convey agricultural knowledge to new generations, and enhance family food security. The garden also serves as a neighborhood gathering space where individuals build a flourishing community, together.

Refugee Family Literacy

This program offers ESOL classes for women and early childhood development for children through age 5. Using parent-child joint learning designed by the National Center for Family Literacy, the team of trained teachers, dedicated children’s teachers (many of whom were refugees themselves), and passionate volunteers help 250 women and children thrive.

Refugee Sewing Society

The colors of the world are on display in garments crafted by women in the Refugees Sewing Society. The women produce a variety of products ranging from clothing to a series of dolls in their store at Clarkston International Bible Church. JOE WESTBURY/Index

RSS empowers refugee women by providing an atmosphere for healing, an opportunity to express creativity, a means for building self-esteem and a source of income for their families. Each week they sew, knit, crochet, weave and bead, creating beautiful handmade items to sell.

Start:ME Business Accelerator

A unique partnership with Emory Goizueta Business School and the Clarkston Community Center, Start:ME helps launch 16 new businesses in Clarkston every year. The group provides 14 weeks of intensive training with 30 skilled volunteer mentors and access to loan funds.

Youth Programs

The challenges surrounding a refugee’s unique circumstance contributes to academic stresses for children. Youth Programs empowers students to thrive with volunteers and community partners through academic support, social development and work-readiness skills through after school programs and 8 weeks of summer camp.

For more information visit the Friends of Refugees website to learn how to volunteer, donate, or serve as an intern. Its office telephone number is (404) 292-8818.

Brian Bollinger, Clarkston International Bible Church, Friends of Refugees, Pat Maddox, Susan McDaniel

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