Over the past year refugee arrivals have dramatically decreased both nationally and in Kansas as a result of actions taken by the Trump Administration. In response, the IRC developed an advocacy campaign in support of continued refugee resettlement to educate, strengthen community support and enlist support from elected officials at all levels.
In October, 2017, IRC Kansas initiated its outreach and education activities, hiring Harold Schlechtweg as Advocacy Coordinator, to assist in planning and implementing a long-term strategy. In addition, the Advocacy coordinator briefs local staff who work with Congressional representatives, thus reinforcing the IRC’s efforts on the national level.
Bethany Shirk, Development Coordinator in Garden City, and Loren Belew, IRC-Kansas’ External Relations Coordinator are also assisting with advocacy efforts. Most recently, Schlechtweg, Shirk and IRC Field Advocacy Coordinator, Genevieve Kessler, visited with members of the Kansas Legislature in Topeka.
IRC-Kansas has strengthened this work with additional resources, recruiting an Advocacy Intern and a volunteer to provide logistical support, database management and expand communication channels. The community response to IRC efforts has been overwhelmingly positive, despite the rhetoric of fear and exclusion that emanates from Washington. Advocacy work is resulting in the winning of new allies and reinvigorating those who have “stood with refugees” from the beginning of IRC-Kansas.
These activities are supported by grants from public spirited organizations that understand welcoming refugees is crucial for national interests, strengthening the economy and for humanitarian reasons. In November, IRC was awarded a grant from the Kansas Health Foundation to implement a series of public forums and train volunteers to be community advocates for refugee resettlement.
“We are beginning a long process aimed at informing and enlisting public support and influencing policies at all levels of government” said Schlechtweg. “Just four months into this project, I have been pleasantly surprised by the positive community response. Kansans are warm-hearted and willing to lend a hand once they understand the facts.”
If you would like to attend a public forum, get involved in our digital advocacy efforts (email, text, twitter and phone) or would like to have someone from IRC’s Advocacy Team speak with your group or organization, please call the IRC at 316-295-4488, or email us at Harold.Schlechtweg [at] Rescue.org.