On Saturday, June 20 the IRC in Tallahassee celebrated World Refugee Day. The IRC hosted a live virtual panel discussion with community partners, refugee families and the Tallahassee community at-large. The event highlighted the contributions of the refugee community in Tallahassee, and elevated the voices of refugee families, community leaders and volunteers who ensure Big Bend communities continue to be welcoming places for all.
During the event, panelists discussed how their daily interactions with refugees impacted their professional and personal lives. The panelists, Vania Aguilar, of Florida State University’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights and Tommy Thompson, a community volunteer for the IRC in Tallahassee recognized the challenges that many refugee families face when arriving to their new homes, and the role the community plays in supporting them. Another, panelist, Gillian Gregory, Assistant Superintendent for Leon County Schools, discussed the important role the county's education system plays in supporting refugee families seeking to enroll their children in school. J.D. McCrary, Executive Director of the IRC in Florida, and Una Bilic, Site Manager for the Tallahassee office, spoke about the IRC’s programming and its strong relationships with community partners. Since opening in 2016, the IRC in Tallahassee has provided services to over 525 refugees, asylees and other vulnerable immigrant populations to ensure families are empowered to rebuild their lives in Big Bend communities through resettlement services and other programs.
A statement from Tallahassee’s Mayor, John Dailey, encapsulated the community’s commitment to ensuring refugees continue to be welcomed and that their contributions are celebrated. The many contributions refugees bring to the community can be seen across all sectors of our society; they bring economic and cultural diversity that enrich the vitality of communities.
"Refugees are resilient, hardworking people whose innovative skills contribute greatly to Tallahassee’s economic vitality and diversity of culture. From opening and operating businesses to being active and engaged with their neighborhoods and more, as Mayor I’ve seen firsthand how refugees who now call Tallahassee home have become a vital part of the fabric of our community helping to make us stronger.”
Mayor John Dailey - Mayor of Tallahassee
The Alhalabis are one of those families contributing to Tallahassee's economic vitality. Originally from Syria, the family now owns and operates Melano Construction & Maintenance, a construction and custom furniture business in Tallahassee. Their company offers custom-made furniture and furniture refurbishment, home remodeling, painting, flooring services, and fence installation/repair.
Belal, the family’s youngest son and official spokesperson for the business, describes their experience as small business owners:
“We have been in business for 40 years, with our beginnings in Syria. We continued our family owned business in the United States, officially opening Melano Construction & Maintenance in 2017. We have been operating our business in Tallahassee for just about four years.
We choose to offer these services because people love to repair, refurbish and remodel their homes. We are highly trained in carpentry, upholstery and woodwork and we know that we can offer the best services for everyone.
We love what we do, and wanted to be self-reliant, self-sufficient in the U.S. This motivated us to start our own company. With my family’s expertise, my father’s experience and my brother’s support, we have opened our own American business.”
Melano Construction & Maintenance has served hundreds of clients throughout its short U.S. tenure. The Alhalabi family’s spirit of entrepreneurship and resiliency is representative of the shared values refugees bring to their new communities, a willingness to contribute and a desire to belong.
To learn more about the work of the IRC in Florida and for information on how you can get involved with the IRC as a donor or volunteer, please contact Development Manager, JC Torres, at Juan.Torres [at] Rescue.org or 786-325-6257.
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