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Refugee Youth Visit Richmond to Build Civic Engagement

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Photo: Elissa Milanowski/ONS

This past August, seventeen refugee youth from across the Commonwealth of Virginia, including two from Charlottesville, visited Richmond as part of the first Mentoring Youth in Virginia (MYVA) Capitol Tour, hosted by the Virginia Department of Social Services' (VDSS) Office of Newcomer Services (ONS).  The day-long program featured tours of city and state landmarks as well as presentations and discussions from civic leaders designed to promote civic engagement and deepen the students’ understanding of and connection to Virginia’s rich history.  Students met with representatives from VDSS, the IRC in Richmond, and Mayor Levar Stoney’s office, among others.

A Syrian refugee student examines immigration papers and photos of a Syrian couple who came to Virginia in 1907. Photo: Monte Hackney/IRC

Students visited the Library of Virginia, and took in the current exhibit, New Virginians, a partnership with Virginia Humanities.  The exhibit features personal artifacts, video recordings and other primary source documents from immigrants to explore the themes of opportunity, family, service, faith and gratitude.  One student’s own family was included in the exhibit.

Virginia is one of 34 states to receive a youth mentoring grant funding by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) for the MYVA program, which supports educational and vocational advancement for refugee-eligible youth between the ages of 15 and 24 years old. Among the program’s many support services, youth receive training in college and career preparedness and leadership development, and are matched with a trained mentor for a period of six months to one year. 

Students from Charlottesville copy the pose of the monument. Photo: Monte Hackney/IRC

“The MYVA participants are some of the brightest stars in their communities and this experience gave them the opportunity to connect with their new home state and recognize themselves as an important part of Virginia’s history and its future,” says IRC in Charlottesville School Specialist, Monte Hackney, who manages the MYVA program in Charlottesville.  “These students have tremendous potential and the goal of MYVA is to foster that potential through enrichment activities and mentorship.”

The IRC in Charlottesville is currently accepting applications for Youth Mentors.  Youth Mentors work with students for a prolonged period of time (6 months to a year, or more) to help build their skills and confidence, and connect with a professionals in the student’s chosen field of study, such as Law, Architecture, or Fashion Design.  To learn more about mentoring, and what professions are currently in need, please email VolunteerCharlottesville [at] rescue.org