Katerina Noori and Aisosa Osaretin recently completed their International Public Service Projects with Canopy Northwest Arkansas, a nonprofit organization based in Fayetteville that works to support refugees who are resettling in the Northwest Arkansas community.
As a resettlement center, Canopy provides refugees with everything they need to build a new life in the United States – a place to live, schools for their children, language classes, doctors, lawyers, counselors, and babysitters.
Canopy helps refugees put together a resume, evaluate their degree, and prepare to enter the American workforce. The organization also seeks to engage the Northwest Arkansas community by connecting organizations, businesses, congregations, and individuals to all refugees in need of assistance, easing the resettlement process for refugees and allowing the community to forge a connection with the new residents.
In searching for organizations to complete their international projects, both Noori and Osaretin originally planned to complete their work abroad – Noori in Nepal and Osaretin in Ghana – before the COVID-19 pandemic halted international travel. When searching for domestic organizations with a focus on international work, each chose Canopy because of its role in advancing the experiences of refugees in Arkansas.
“I chose to work with Canopy NWA because they are the only organization in Arkansas that resettles refugees,” said Noori, a native of Chandler, Ariz. “They formed through a community concern for this population, and their vision of thriving refugees in a thriving community is close to my heart.”
Canopy works through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, which has its beginnings in the Refugee Act of 1980 passed under former President Ronald Reagan. A refugee is a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a 'well-founded fear of persecution' due to race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion or national origin," the organization explains on its website.
Canopy has resettled more than 170 refugees since its formation in 2016.
“I chose Canopy NWA because of the relation between refugee reintegration and resettlement and my interest in furthering human rights,” said Osaretin, a native of Benin City, Nigeria, and a concurrent student at the UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law.
Noori’s work involved creating an evaluation plan to assist Canopy in monitoring the outcomes of its pilot program, The Long Welcome. Launched in 2019, The Long Welcome provides comprehensive services to refugees and their families for up to five years upon their arrival to the United States.
"It's a very holistic, wraparound model, and the goal is that we would be able to walk alongside our clients so that they're fully adjusted, fully equipped to build new lives in Northwest Arkansas or wherever they choose to go," Hannah Lee, Canopy’s Director of Community Engagement, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in March.
The early parts of Noori’s work included working with then Executive Director Emily Crane Linn to create logic models and determine goals, objectives, and indicators for the program before shifting to locating and organizing Canopy's existing data.
“I analyzed data through descriptive statistics and created a baseline analysis report,” Noori said. “This data was used to edit the program's goals and objectives to make sure they were realistic. This data can be used by Canopy to measure program progress and perceived effectiveness. I was able to present my findings to the staff at a weekly staff meeting.”
Osaretin’s work was focused on measuring the attitudes and perceptions of local Northwest Arkansas residents toward refugees, as well as their general knowledge and understanding of Canopy and its work.
“A lot of times, people are afraid that the refugee resettlement process is bringing in dangerous people,” Lee told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “We get a lot of questions like, 'How do you know that the people coming through aren't terrorists or sleeper cells?' And that's a valid question. If you're not familiar with the process as a whole, I can understand why it could be scary. But the refugee vetting process is, literally, the most thorough vetting process that exists in the United States.”
Additionally, research has shown that acceptance of refugees by members of host communities has a strong impact on the overall quality of refugee resettlement and reintegration. Knowing this, and knowing the general questions many residents have about refugees, Canopy puts tremendous effort into educating the local community to ensure its refugees’ resettlement processes are a success.
For Osaretin, that meant measuring the local education efforts from Canopy that are already underway. She used a blend of surveys and interviews to measure resident attitudes. Her questions gauged the respondents’ general knowledge of refugees and Canopy NWA, as well as their level of interaction with refugees.
“My job entailed assessing if there has been a positive shift in their attitude towards refugees and the possible gaps that Canopy NWA would have to address in future,” Osaretin explained.
Both said they felt rewarded by their time with Canopy, and the potential long-term impacts their work will have on refugees and the Northwest Arkansas community.
“Overall, the most rewarding part was seeing how the work I did fit in with Canopy's larger mission,” Noori said. “Evaluation is often not a priority for program directors, as doing the work and serving clients is more important. However, being able to see how a program helps clients means growth and improvement for the program, as well as the ability to apply for funding. I was very glad to be able to help create a plan for continued outcome monitoring for this new program.”
“Rewarding aspects of this project included having the opportunity to learn more about refugees, the steps it entails to become a refugee, and the trauma they overcome,” Osaretin said. “But most of all, I was glad for the opportunity to make a minimal impact for refugees by educating residents that we may not be able to address the issues that lead these people to our communities, but that accepting them is literally the least we can do in our contribution to public service.”
The Clinton School Speaker Series not only enhances the education of Clinton School students, but also provides a venue for the public to engage in intellectual discussions on the issues of the day.