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Louisville Business Launches Pilot Program To Support Refugees

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The current federal fiscal year ends September 30 and that’s the deadline for President Trump to determine the number of refugees allowed into the country for the next year. And the U.S. Supreme Court this week upheld Trump’s travel ban on refugeesuntil the high court officially weighs in on the ban next month.

That means the number of refugees that the U.S. will resettle next fiscal year is unknown. But a local business is piloting a program to offer resources to help newcomers feel at home here.

Doe-Anderson Advertising wants to help with providing resources such as household items to new families in Louisville. Employees of the agency will also help with teaching newcomers how to use TARC, getting them a library card and taking them to events like soccer games.

“We thought that it would be really interesting to get more involved with [Kentucky Refugee Ministries Louisville], particularly in light of some of the conversations that have been going on regarding refugees in our community,” said John Birnsteel, COO of Doe-Anderson.  

Local resettlement agencies — like Kentucky Refugee Ministries — help refugees with integration services, including accompanying families to medical appointments and helping make sure they know how to navigate their new city. Resettlement agencies often partner with churches to help with the costs of integration, but Birnsteel believes businesses should participate as well.

"I hate to generalize, but you talk about the millennial generation," Birnsteel says, "they want to get involved with things that have deeper meaning than just the 9-5 job. I think this is an opportunity whether you’re in manufacturing or whether you’re in financial services that this is something that will engage employees."

Kentucky Refugee Ministries Louisville often receives support from small businesses to help with the resettlement process. But it's not every day that a company the size of Doe-Anderson Advertising commits to the cause. Doe-Anderson is contributing $2,500 for three months of rent and utilities for a refugee family. They’ve also collected furniture, pots, pans and other items to help with the transition.

But the company's commitment goes beyond money, said John Koehlinger, executive director of Kentucky Refugee Ministries Louisville.

“It’s really the befriending aspect that’s impactful to a family,” he said.

Many refugees require help with tasks that need to be completed during the work day, and that may not be feasible for some professionals.

“It’s a time commitment that not everybody has,” Koehlinger said.

As part of its commitment, Doe-Anderson will allow its workers to help refugees on company time. Koehlinger said volunteering during business hours is a barrier for large companies that want to be more involved in the integration process in a personal way. He said he hopes the company's pilot program will be a model for other businesses in the area.

Birnsteel said refugee families helped by Doe-Anderson will not be featured in company ads.

This story has been updated. 

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.

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