VT students begin initiative to help refugees in Roanoke


Blacksburg, Va., Sept. 21 – Coalition for Refugee Resettlement: The CRR team meets to organize the start of their new after school program. Photo: Ashley Hunter


by Ashley Hunter–

As the United States reached its goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees at the end August, Roanoke, Va. has also played its role in the resettlement of refugees. Roanoke received 21 Syrian refugees between May and August of this year, but the city has been strongly involved with refugee efforts for years.

According to the U.S. State Department, Roanoke has accepted more than 800 refugees in the past 5 years. Refugees arriving in Roanoke come from countries such as Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, and Burundi and are resettled by an agency called Commonwealth Catholic Charities.

Refugees arriving in the United States face many challenges, including low-level English skills, low education levels, low economic status, and lack of preparation for employment, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Many programs work to aid refugees in the resettlement process, one of which is the Coalition for Refugee Resettlement (CRR). CRR is a student organization at Virginia Tech that works with resettled refugees living in Roanoke. The student volunteers work with both children and adults on English skills. The volunteers serve as mentors to the children and provide homework help. They also work with adults on preparing for the citizenship test.

CRR volunteers previously worked with families in their homes. The organization is now working towards a new program that will function in partner schools in Roanoke. This change comes as a response to the liability of having students in homes in which background checks are not performed on the volunteers or the families. CRR President David Branson and Site Leader Brianne Donovan both see this new program as an opportunity to expand and more effectively provide refuges the support they need.

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CRR President David Branson

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CRR Site Leader Brianne Donovan