Referred to as “the most diverse square mile in America,” Georgia’s own Clarkston is a resettlement community for refugee families to take solace. Just four-and-half miles away is Global Village Project (GVP) tucked inside Decatur Presbyterian Church (their longstanding partner). Within the halls of GVP, refugee girls learn english language and literacy, academic subjects, and the arts over three years in preparation for a successful high school experience.
To combat the uncertainty that comes upon graduation from their program, Global Village Project set up what has become foundational to their success – a mentorship program. Extending into the pivotal years of each girl’s high school career, a mentor-mentee relationship is formed. What follows is guidance through life’s often choppy waters and the opportunities that await them beyond the walls of Global Village Project.
We got the chance to catch up with Michelle Kuperman, GVP’s volunteer mentor coordinator, to find out the history of the program and how refugee girls follow their own pathway to success on American soil.
“When GVP first started we weren’t particularly a middle school – we were just a school for refugee girls in their teens trying to teach them English so that they could be successful in public school,” explains Michelle.
“I got involved as a volunteer tutor a year-and-a-half after the school started. We had 12 girls graduating at the end of our second year and Julia Levy (a former director for GVP) realized they were going to have a hard time trying to register for high school on their own. How could we just let them go? So Julia approached several of the volunteers and said, “Can I put you with a girl so you can help her register for high school?” We all agreed and were matched up with girls leaving the program.”
“It was the first time we had ever tried to do something like that. How the girls ever would have done it on their own was mind blowing to us. But we got them the right shots, registered them at school with their parents and after we did that we thought, ‘now they are going to be in high school, they need someone to be watching over them.’ So we decided to continue this as a mentoring program.”
“That was how it was started and Julia asked me, “Do you want to run it?” I said ‘sure, there’s only 10 of us – how hard could it be?’ Now we have over 53 mentors and 70 girls who are mentored by volunteers. The majority of our mentors meet weekly or bi-monthly to help their mentees with homework, check in with them, and ensure they are on track. Their main goal is to support the girls on their educational pathway.”
What starts as a one-year commitment from the mentors often blossoms into so much more. “With the exception of someone moving away, I can’t say that anyone has stopped after their one-year commitment,” Michelle continues. “I tell our mentors when I talk to them that it’s kind of for life. They know what they are getting into but it becomes easier after time and the girls really become part of their families.”
“The girls’ have their own dreams and the determination to reach them, and GVP’s mentor program provides ongoing support after they leave, as they navigate the complex pathway to college and careers. Everyone has positive things to say about their relationships or what they get from the program. It certainly keeps our kids in school, keeps them on track, keeps them knowing the possibilities of the future.”
The sky’s the limit for many of these girls, including Meh Sod, a GVP graduate who received the Gates Millennium Scholars Program and is currently attending Agnes Scott College. “There is story after story like Meh Sod’s and successes which to us, makes this mentorship program so critical and worthwhile.”
Interested in supporting the refugee girls at Global Village Project? Click here to donate to them in honor of Georgia Gives Day, sign-up to volunteer, or learn more about becoming part of their mentorship program.
Photos are property of Global Village Project