Last month, six refugee students from Charlottesville High School visited the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA on a field trip organized by the IRC in Charlottesville’s youth program, Youth Futures. The students learned about the services provided by the SPCA, including volunteer opportunities and companion animal adoptions. They also spent time socializing with some of the SPCA’s many adoptable cats. Socializing cats is not only enjoyable on its own, as it provides a valuable service to the shelter—exposing the cats to a variety of different people and helping them to feel more relaxed and open to meeting potential adopters.
The students earned community service hours for their time spent socializing cats. “Service to the community is important in developing a sense of belonging and helps youth adjust culturally and build connections with each other,” says Monte Hackney, IRC in Charlottesville School Specialist. The visit is one of several planned outings for the group. The IRC works with the students to identify areas of interest and helps to facilitate their introduction to many facets of the Charlottesville community they might not otherwise encounter. Other planned field trips include hiking on trails around town, visiting UVA, and attending local events such as arts festivals.
Youth Futures, now in its second year, supports refugee students at Charlottesville High School who have arrived in the last several years. Two different sessions are each held weekly after school at CHS; attendance varies from 3-8 students each meeting. One session is open to all students and typically involve games, discussions, and other activities designed to bring students together to think about key issues that affect them such as stress, cultural and personal identity, and planning for the future. Hackney explains, “Many of the refugee high school youth are exceptionally bright and have often learned English faster than their parents. They already hold a high level of responsibility in their families as they help their parents navigate daily life. This can create a lot of stress for these students and we want to help them identify healthy ways to manage these challenges.”
The other session is invitation-only, where school administrators and IRC staff work closely together to identify refugee juniors and seniors who could benefit from additional guidance. Students in these sessions receive one-on-one help to plan for their lives after graduation from high school, including assistance with job applications, scholarship applications, career planning, and any other specific support requested by the student.
Travis Haycraft, IRC in Charlottesville Youth Assistant, elaborates on the importance of such programs, “High school can be a stressful and alienating time in life even for people in the best of circumstances, and as a result students can fail to form a connection to their community. Field trips such as the recent SPCA visit increase the students’ civic engagement. Students get a reprieve from their school and home responsibilities and can just be kids allowed to explore new areas of interest.”
If you are interested in volunteering with the IRC’s youth programs, please contact VolunteerCharlottesville [at] Rescue.org for more information.