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St. Ambrose Joins National Movement to House Refugees on Campus

Nonprofits, including One Eighty (pictured here), helped paint and renovate the house.
Zyon Velazquez
Nonprofits, including One Eighty (pictured here), helped paint and renovate the house.

Not only will St. Ambrose University welcome students back to campus this fall, it will also house a refugee family.

It’s part of a national movement to reimagine college campuses, which have unique resources to help others.

Every Campus A Refuge, or ECAR, helps universities connect with local resettlement agencies to host refugees on college campuses.

St. Ambrose’s partner is Tapestry Farms, a Quad Cities nonprofit. The Davenport organization learned about ECAR and contacted the university. St. Ambrose is now one of 17 universities participating in Every Campus A Refuge and the first of its kind in Iowa.

Nicky Gant is the Service and Justice Coordinator at St. Ambrose. She says a house on campus will be ready for a family of six next month.

Nicky Gant.
St. Ambrose University
Nicky Gant.

"The idea is just to provide a cocoon of welcome, where they would not have to pay rent," she said. "And where they're close, here on campus, not only to volunteer support and a lot of connections that are American, which can be helpful for them in getting adjusted, but also the campus community is near a bus stop, banking, groceries, and things like that."

"Once they're on their feet, and adjusted here, and have income and a job, and are connected into the schools, they can move out on their own. And then we would be able to then welcome another family."

ECAR was founded by Diya Abdo in 2015. She was inspired by Pope Francis’ call for every European parish to host a refugee family during the Syrian refugee crisis.

"I was really struck by the Pope's call on small communities to do the work of radical hospitality. And I was really struggling, as a professor at a small liberal arts university, with what I could do in that moment, and that felt very doable," she said.

Diya Abdo.
Cheryl Diaz Meyer
Diya Abdo.

"As if it was a call for my little parish that is Guilford College, because in the way I imagined a parish, or I understood what a parish meant was a small community that was bound by a shared values, a shared ethos, really a small city."

In addition to providing a softer landing for refugees, Abdo says ECAR helps students too.

"At a time when it's really challenging for our students to do study abroad, and to gain some of those intercultural skills, intercultural dialogue, cultural humility, this is a great opportunity for doing global work, global studies at home, locally, in a way that's really impactful for the community."

At the St. Ambrose chapter, Gant says students will help the family move in and get settled.

"There will opportunities for students to be engaged with the family through service learning. We have a professor who's gonna incorporate it into her curriculum."

"They'll have to go through training in teaching English as a second language, and providing welcome baskets, giving tours of campus, and just building relationships with the family, along with fundraising for the home improvements, and things like that."

Gant hopes the work will inspire students to continue helping refugees after they graduate.

Abdo says there’s been an increase in opportunities to help.

The issue is personal for her. She’s an immigrant from Jordan, where her parents and grandparents were refugees. She says people have misperceptions about refugees.

"I think we use that as an opportunity, always, to have a conversation with folks. I would say that, by and large, campuses and their communities are truly excited to welcome our newest Americans," she said. "I'm never disappointed in the American spirit of generosity that I see over and over again on every ECAR chapter."

Gant says the St. Ambrose community embraced the idea.

"People can see that the vision of what we're trying to do here is in alignment with our Catholic values, and see it as a positive thing," she said. "People may have different political views, but when it comes down to the humanness of wanting to help a family that's vulnerable, I think we can all agree that that's the right thing to do."

Local organizations assisting with the renovations include One Eighty, Humble Dwellings, Humility Homes and Services, and John Deere.

St. Ambrose University

Rachel graduated from Michigan State University's J-School and has a background in broadcast and environmental journalism. Before WVIK, she worked for WKAR Public Media, Great Lakes Now, and more. In her free time, she likes to cook, hike, and hang out with her cat.

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