by Ian Francisco
This semester, I had the privilege of being a part of the New Bridges’ Immigrant and Refugee forum as an ICAD facilitator. With everyone so passionate to talk about their thoughts, views, and fears I held the belief that some valuable conversation may get lost in the shuffle.
The beginning of the day gave me the chance to listen to the successes within the community with regards to the immigrant and refugee community in Harrisonburg. Listening to the participants discuss what they considered to be successes was interesting because of I wasn’t aware of Harrisonburg’s previous, fantastic efforts to be welcoming to immigrants and refugees. Learning about them made me proud to go to school within this community. Before this event, I had no idea how much the city of Harrisonburg had accomplished in recent decades.
I think that’s one of the more rewarding things about being a facilitator. Not only are you helping people reach a consensus on the things they can do to help better a community or organization, but as a facilitator you are also exposed to these many different schools of thought. You learn from these people, they learn from one another, and we learn about the amazing work that is being done—work that means so much to certain people but can go unnoticed by JMU students like myself.
A challenge that is currently being faced by the people who want to help the immigrant and refugee population is simply answering the question on how to help them. This is especially difficult to answer with the increasing anxiety within these communities that continues to linger. Activists and organizers of Harrisonburg have put so many amazing programs in place and provided countless services to immigrants and refugees in the area for longer than I’ve even been alive. However, today they are faced with the realization that new trends in who is coming to the area and new social climates are creating new needs. New Bridges asked ICAD to help them address these needs by bringing various parties together and asking them to tell us what changes we need to making in order to address these needs. We also wanted to create an event that would allow these parties to voice their concerns as new realities create increasing uncertainty. These main goals really influenced how we structured the event, making sure to include time to reflect, to let anxieties be heard, and to brainstorm. This proved effective in not only creating a space where attendees were able to speak productively, but it was also helpful in avoiding the problem of progress being stifled by emotion.
There’s something to be said for the ability to balance validating feelings, while also instilling a hope that motivates proactivity. Getting to be a part of those first steps towards a solution feels absolutely invaluable to me.