When the LaFleur team volunteers, we’re not afraid to get our hands dirty. Sometimes, though, we manage to link up with an organization that needs our primary (nerdy) skillset. Such was the case with Thrive, a refugee support program based in our hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Refugees Need Help Now More Than Ever
Right now, the world’s population of forcibly displaced people is at a record high. By the end of 2017, 68.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide because of persecution, conflict, violence, and human rights violations.
Refugees rarely get to choose the country where they settle. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, identifies the most vulnerable refugees for resettlement and then makes recommendations to select countries. In 2017, the United States took in 24,559 refugees.
Even though asylum in the United States grants refugees safety and security, they still face massive challenges in their new home. They frequently arrive with little or no knowledge of the English language and American culture, which makes it incredibly difficult to apply for jobs, make friends, and even complete everyday tasks like buying food and filling out paperwork. Refugees rarely arrive with much money, and given the limited employment options available to them, they often struggle to secure housing and reliable transportation.
Refugees also may not understand the services that are available to them, and many fear deportation if they try to use government programs or services. And our education system tends to pass refugees by, too: refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than their non-refugee peers.
To help combat these issues, David Apol and Marcia Elders created Thrive: A Refugee Support Program in 2011. Thrive is dedicated to connecting refugees to critical services as well as fill in gaps in available services wherever possible. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, they currently have just one part-time paid staff member, and they rely heavily on volunteer support to further their mission.
“When LaFleur reached out to us with the generous gift of service, we knew we needed help in increasing our communications to the general public about all things refugees,” David says. “Also, to those searching for help, whether a refugee or volunteer, we wanted to be clear what Thrive: A Refugee Support Program has to offer.”
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Action! Capturing Thrive’s Mission and the Beautiful Crossing
We decided early on in talks with Marcia and David that one of the most valuable things we could do for them was to help shoot a video that would introduce viewers to the organization and explain their core mission. Adding a video to their site would not only help from a search engine optimization (SEO) standpoint, we reasoned, but it would provide a simple, inviting, and visually powerful introduction to the organization for site visitors.
At the same time, Thrive was also in the process of working with another young activist with an ambitious project. Alana Murphy is a researcher and refugee advocate who has studied mass migration and refugee resettlement while working in Jordan, Morocco, the Philippines, Ecuador, and the United States. In 2018, she began a remarkable personal journey and storytelling endeavor: she decided to cycle across the United States while meeting and interviewing refugees along the way to compile their stories. Alana named her project “The Beautiful Crossing.”
As it happened, Alana had decided to stop at the Thrive headquarters as part of her journey, and our volunteer project with Thrive coincided with this stop. David and Marcia requested that we incorporate Alana’s Beautiful Crossing project and the partnership between Alana and Thrive into the video, and we gladly obliged.
Jason Brower and I headed to the Thrive headquarters in St. Paul United Methodist Church to shoot the video on the day of Alana’s arrival. When we finally met Alana, she had just gotten to Grand Rapids that morning, so I expected a bedraggled and exhausted woman in need of a shower and a warm bed. Instead, after cycling her way from Cleveland to West Michigan, she looked more put together than I do most days. We spent a few hours interviewing the three activists, shooting b-roll, and talking to two of the refugees who were there to speak with Alana.
Afterward, our team edited the footage together, and within a couple of weeks, we were able to post it to the Thrive website. While we didn’t have as much time to shoot with Thrive as we would have liked (the refugees we met certainly deserved more on-camera time, but they were busy talking with Alana), the passion of Marcia, David, and Alana shines through in the footage, and hopefully that passion will inspire others who watch it to learn more about the refugees in their community and find out how they can help.
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Thrive’s Website Gets a Little Love From LaFleur
In addition to shooting the video, we also worked with David and Marcia to identify some fundamental sticking points they had with the Thrive website and try to solve them. Like many small organizations who manage their own websites, David and Marcia were stuck with a dated and unintuitive content management system, and they were having trouble figuring out how to maintain their site and post new content.
To get started, our team reviewed Thrive’s website for overall health. Then, working on the “teach a person to fish” principle, we put together some “how-to” documentation for general website tasks like posting blogs, adding new events, uploading images, adding new users, and updating menus. Rather than just sending over this documentation and calling it a day, we also hosted a training session for key Thrive board members to explain website usage and provide a walk-through for the items in the how-to documentation.
Finally, Sarah LaFleur helped create a new resources page on the Thrive website that directs refugees to other agencies and organizations that can provide needed services and support.
“We’re very pleased with the results from the volunteer project and enjoyed working with the team at LaFleur,” David says. “We know [the resources page] will be very helpful to those who are looking for local and governmental agencies that are ready and willing to help refugees. We’re still working on our skill level with the website, but we hope our relationship will continue and that we can pay LaFleur back someday.”
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Contact LaFleur for Help With Your Next Volunteer Project
Giving back to the community is a core part of our mission at LaFleur. If you’d like to learn more about partnering with us to develop new marketing initiatives or to improve your existing campaigns, please contact us by calling (888) 222-1512 or completing this brief contact form.
Or, if you’re a nonprofit organization in West Michigan and you’d like LaFleur to consider you for our monthly volunteering efforts, please email Sarah LaFleur at [email protected] to tell us about your organization and explain what you need.
Refugee statistics. (n.d.). USA for UNHCR. Retrieved from https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/statistics/
Refugees in America. (n.d.). USA for UNHCR. Retrieved from https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/usa/