KE apartments partner with refugee resettlement


Photo by Kai Koopman

Last week, a group of 15 Calvin students came together to help move furniture into an apartment for a Bhutanese refugee family that had just arrived in the United States from Nepal. The service project was the first of many that KE hopes to perform within the refugee community.

Refugees, “can seem invisible,” noted Kai Koopman, a Calvin grad who works at Bethany Christian Services, a local refugee resettlement agency, “until you’re aware of refugees, that is.”

Refugees flee violence or persecution in their home countries, where, for reasons of race, religion or political affiliation, they are unable to return. Most wait in camps in neighboring countries until they can be resettled in a third country such as the United States, France or Sweden.

The United States accepts 70,000 refugees every year from countries such as Myanmar, Sudan and Iraq. Around 1,000 of them will find homes in the West Michigan area each year.

As they learn more about refugees living in the Grand Rapids community, some students’ awareness is turning into action. After volunteering with Bethany, members of the service-learning center staff and KE RA staff connected with Koopman to find a way to create a partnership between KE and the Bethany Christian Services resettlement program.

Jason Shaffer, resident area coordinator for KE, is enthusiastic about this partnership. Students “have a lot on their plates,” said Shaffer. “However, because of their experience and the learning they have gained in their first couple of years at Calvin, they have a lot to offer.”

“The partnership with Bethany is an opportunity for students to act justly by utilizing the deep learning that has taken place throughout their time at Calvin,” he said.

Junior Anna Lindner helped unload mattresses, nightstands and cleaning supplies into the apartment last week. “I have a few friends who are either refugees or work with refugees,” Lindner said. Her interest in anti-racism and reconciliation also drew her in. “I became involved in the hopes of learning about another culture,” she said.

Koopman interned at Bethany when he was getting his degree at Calvin and now works in their office through the Americorps VISTA program, alongside other Calvin graduates.

“When I discovered Grand Rapids’ large and long-standing refugee community, I became aware of, and intrigued with a whole new world of cultural learning and exchange,” said Koopman.

“I hope the KE-resettlement partnership will strengthen existing ties between Bethany and Calvin,” Koopman said. “I also hope to uncover new structures appropriate for student volunteers to serve refugee families.”

Currently, incoming refugees are partnered with churches to assist in resettlement, but Koopman hopes that Bethany can connect more college students to the resettlement process.

“Calvin students should know that refugee communities are a vital part of our city, have a lot to offer and can be engaged through service or otherwise,” said Koopman.

“Practically, students can fill the role of eager and energetic move-in volunteers, which is a consistent need,” said Koopman. “Students are also great advocates for Bethany’s refugee program and can continue to connect their peers with internships or volunteer opportunities at Bethany.”

Students interested in volunteering or learning more about Bethany Christian Services should connect with the service-learning center.