Immigrant, refugee outreach expanded through new club

A new high school club dedicated to serving immigrants and refugees in central Ohio has been created in hopes of educating Bexley students about the experiences of immigrants and refugees and providing opportunities for students to become more involved in assisting these groups.

Juniors and co-presidents Isaac Bernstein and John Laing said that the Bexley Refugee and Immigrant Service Club is a group whose primary focus is on education, cultural exchange and service.

Laing and Bernstein, whose mothers are both immigration lawyers, said they were inspired to found the club after sharing an experience last year with a refugee family who had claimed sanctuary in a local church.

Bernstein explained that the refugee mother and her children were unable to leave the church or they would risk deportation.

“[Bernstein’s] mom asked everyone to bring food and we shared a Thanksgiving meal with the family,” Laing said. “That was, for me, when I saw the need.”

Bernstein and Laing said they plan to work with Bernstein’s mother to invite refugees and immigrants to speak during club meetings so that students can hear first-hand accounts of their experiences.

“Our biggest goal is to put what we learn in use by serving these communities,” Laing said.

Adviser of the club and social studies teacher Scott King-Owen said the club hopes to accomplish this through fundraising events like clothing or food drives.

He explained that the club plans to meet monthly, with meetings serving as a time to plan for upcoming events or hold educational sessions with speakers.

“One of the key goals is to simply be aware of and understand the very particular problems that refugees face,” King-Owen said.

Both Laing and Bernstein said they hope the club is able to provide assistance and support to many different immigrant and refugee communities within central Ohio. However, there are certainly some groups of immigrants that are larger than others, they said. For example, according to The Columbus Dispatch, Columbus is home to the second largest Somali community in the United States.

“There are a lot of people who are hoping that they can come to the U.S. and establish themselves in the U.S. as a citizen or obtain a green card or a visa,” Bernstein said. “It’s a long process and it’s a hard process.”

Laing said their focus will be driven by the needs of different communities, and they hope to build connections between these communities and students.

King-Owen said there is a great need for groups like BRISC, since major crises over the past decade have displaced many people into refugee situations.

“I think getting to know people and understanding their culture is incredibly important,” King-Owen said. “It puts a human face on a problem that seems very abstract.”