Elon University’s Kernodle Center for Civic Life partners with the University of North Carolina-Greensboro’s Center for New North Carolina on an after-school tutoring program for children K-12 from immigrant and refugee families.
The Kernodle Center for Civic Life is primarily focused on local volunteer work, but Assistant Director Andrew Moffa said the center wants to engage with immigrant communities — which Alamance County lacks, with its foreign-born population. 8.4%according to the 2021 census. Greensboro, where the center is located, has a foreign-born population 11.7%.
“We believe in supporting immigrant and refugee families,” said Moffa. “This is an important topic, and there’s not a lot of opportunity for it here locally, because of how small our community is.”
Every Thursday, student volunteers go to CNNC’s Community Enrichment Center — which primarily serves Sudanese and other Arabic or Swahili-speaking families — to help with homework with reading, English, and math.
The Center for New North Carolina has much more to offer program to provide access to legal and health services and job development for new immigrant and refugee families in North Carolina.
Freshman Hallie Beeker, CNNC Elon volunteer student coordinator, had never volunteered with refugees before, but said she was inspired to participate in the program because her global experience course focused on the Arab world. Beeker said her professor for her Global Experience class, Shereen Elgamal, shared her experience volunteering with immigrant families in North Carolina, which encouraged Beeker to do the same.
Beeker said he saw an opportunity to volunteer with a center serving populations primarily from the Middle East.
“I was interested in hearing about his experience, his volunteer work, and just the class in general,” says Beeker. “I fell in love with it and went every week.”
Beeker says he loves being involved with the children he mentors.
“Kids are the sweetest, most motivated kids, and when you go out there, they want to learn, they want to develop,” Beeker said. “Parents are very grateful and they want their children to succeed and advance in their academic fields.”
Each of the three community centers that CNNC offers are based in apartment complexes housing different immigrant and refugee populations, including families from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Spanish-speaking countries. While the Center for Community Enrichment caters to many families from Sudan, Beeker said there were no language barriers with the students. However, some children are used to reading in Arabic which is read from right to left.
Natacha Nikokeza, senior program coordinator for CNNC’s community centers, said the centers were started out of community need.
“The children who were resettled in the apartment complex needed someone who could help them understand their homework and it started with just one staff member from the Center for New North Carolina offering services on the bus, and that need grew,” Nikokeza said. . “The more children who wanted to be helped, the more parents encouraged their children to get the service, and it started with one apartment complex and then two, and it grew from there.”
Nikokeza is a refugee from Burundi, East Africa, and started volunteering with a resettlement agency when she moved to the US When a permanent position opened at CNNC, she took it and has worked there for over five years.
Nikokeza says he loves his job and this partnership for two reasons: seeing the relationships grow between student volunteers and immigrant children and providing community assistance.
“Students are exposed to learning from people who may be different from what they are used to seeing. The feeling of providing a needed service — we have always seen that this is very beneficial for students,” said Nikokeza. “It also helps us to have the hands we need to be able to provide services to the community.”
Beeker said the student volunteer training process focuses more on how to interact with students, rather than what topics will be taught.
“It’s more about acting as a tutor, so be patient, be understanding,” says Beeker. “It’s just how to present yourself and how to make the children feel more comfortable around you.”
Due to COVID-19, the university stopped sending students for several years but restarted partnerships last semester. There are three Elon student volunteers this fall and two this semester, according to Moffa. Nikokeza says the community center relies on university volunteers from the area.
He said he has seen many students return after a semester to volunteer with the program as a semester-long or year-long intern AmeriCorps volunteer.
“This program speaks for itself and through the students who come in and provide those services,” said Nikokeza.
Moffa said the Kernodle Center for Civic Life is proud of its partnership with CNNC.
“It’s one that I want to be able to develop even more,” said Moffa. “The students who are leaving now are very dedicated and they will continue to go which makes me very happy.”
Beeker said the experience was eye-opening and encouraged fellow students to volunteer with the Kernodle Center or with CNNC, which he and other students visit every Thursday from 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
“College is a time where everyone focuses on themselves,” says Beeker. “It’s nice to take part of my week to not think about myself and think about someone other than me.”