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New Haven

Philanthropy

Doing our part to help others make a smooth transition to a new land

posted by Tariq Farid May 14, 2015

I recently had an opportunity to meet a few of the many refugees being helped by Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven.

As someone who moved to the United States as a child, I know that making the transition to a new country can be very challenging. Thankfully, we had neighbors, teachers and others within the community who made us feel welcome and helped us learn the new customs, the language and other things we needed to know to become comfortable in our new home.

I know that not everyone who comes to this country is fortunate enough to have such a support group, however. And that is especially true of those who are refugees.

Refugees making the transition to life in the United States depend on organizations such as IRIS for help and guidance.

That’s why I welcomed the opportunity recently to renew my support of New Haven’s Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) with a contribution from the Tariq Farid Foundation.

IRIS Executive Director Chris George and his team do a tremendous job each year of helping hundreds of refugees rebuild their lives in Connecticut.

In operation since 1982, IRIS assists as many as 500 men, women and children each year, including about 230 new arrivals. Most of the recent refugees have come from Iraq, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Sudan and Colombia.

IRIS welcomes every refugee family to New Haven with a furnished and equipped apartment. In addition, Chris and his team provide English classes for adults, help enroll their kids in school, connect them to health care and help them find jobs. They also provide immigration legal services to help them reunite with family members left behind.

“We don’t have enough money to help them for very long,” Chris told me. “Our job is to help refugees get off to a good start.”

The federal government gives refugee agencies such as IRIS some funding, but Chris says that it is not enough, especially in a relatively expensive state like Connecticut.

As a result, the organization depends heavily on outside support.

“Without additional private funds – like the grant from the Tariq Farid Foundation – we would have to close down,” Chris told me.

There is another reason that support of IRIS is so close to my heart. My grandmother was a refugee and I know the struggles she and her family faced when forced to leave their home.

Now I am blessed to have an opportunity to help others in similar situations and I hope that others will join me in showing their support as well.

Philanthropy

Solar Youth provides hope and opportunity where it is needed most

posted by Tariq Farid December 12, 2014

Solar Youth takes part in a Community Art Project.

When I was young, my uncle used to tell me a story about a frog, and its lesson stays with me to this day. It went something like this:

There was a frog living in a well. One day, a bird looked in the well and urged the frog to come out. The frog declined to do so.

“I’ve got everything I need right here,” the frog said, pointing around the area of the well, pointing out the moss, the insects to eat and the puddles of water from which to drink. “I love it here.”

The bird was not moved and urged the frog to come out. Eventually the frog did come out and was in awe. He was shocked by how much more there was to the world than he knew—different animals he had never seen, things called oceans and mountains, different vegetation, sounds, smells and ways of doing things. He was shocked, and then saddened that he had limited so many years of his life to what existed down in the well.

He determined that he would never limit himself in that way again.

This story immediately came to mind when I first learned about Solar Youth, an amazing organization that works with young people in New Haven, Connecticut. Solar Youth engages youth from some of the most poverty stricken and isolated neighborhoods in its service area.

As with any poverty-stricken area across the world, these neighborhoods struggle with crime, a lack of resources and lack of opportunity. Despite this, these areas are full of good people, and families who are working so hard to try to make a better life for themselves and their children. Sometimes it is easy to forget the good being done by these passionate and dedicated people when we are barraged with negative news stories of crime and violence that occur in these neighborhoods.

Often, parents are busy working numerous jobs to get by. As a result, their children don’t have access to the activities and exposure to the bigger world “out there” that many of us take for granted. This can present a desolate environment for a child and their future chances of success; which is such a waste of potential.

This is where Solar Youth comes in.

Solar Youth’s mission is to provide opportunities for young people to develop a positive sense of self and connection and commitment to others through programs that incorporate environmental exploration, leadership development and community service.

Youth are drawn to Solar Youth for its promise of outdoor adventure and fun activities. These structured programs engage the youth in structured, yet fun learning activities designed to let them know about opportunities outside their immediate world and teaches important psycho-social skills.

Solar Youth:

  • Teaches ecology, caring for the environment and its impact on human health through hikes, education trips and nature.
  • Teaches youth how to work collaboratively to problem solve and improve conditions in their own community.
  • Teaches strategies to express anger, stress and frustration in a healthy and productive way without turning to violence.
  • Develops older youth into mentors so that they can, in turn, work with the younger children but still stay engaged in the organization.
  • With the older youth, through an internship program, Solar Youth offers weekly training on relevant topics including college applications, resume writing, future career planning, to prepare them for the transition out of high school.

This summer, a series of shootings occurred in the neighborhoods in which Solar Youth works. Children witnessed some of it; some children were related to one of the victims. Solar Youth was there, working with the youth through a difficult time, and ensuring that the children would not accept this violence as “normal.” Counselors were brought in. Youth were supported and engaged in a community art project where they made signs that contained important messages for themselves and others, such as “YOU MATTER TO US” and “ALWAYS CHASE YOUR DREAMS.”

Because of this amazing organization, the dreams of these youth will likely be much more far-reaching than those of the frog when he was in the well. And that is so important because they are our future and no human’s potential should be wasted. I am extremely proud that I am able to support their work through the Tariq Farid Foundation.

To learn more about Solar Youth, go here and explore their website. To donate to support their important work, go here.

Here are a few photos of the people involved in Solar Youth as well as those they support. You can also follow their activities on Facebook.

Members of Solar Youth go on a hike and explore a pond and park in New Haven, learning about ecology along the way

Solar Youth learn how to plant, grow and raise their own vegetables.

Solar Youth takes part in New Haven’s Annual Rock-to-Rock Earth Day Bike Ride.

Solar Youth do a neighborhood clean-up and help prepare an area for a new community garden.

Older members of Solar Youth attend an in-depth seminar that covers everything about applying for college

Older members of Solar Youth talk to graphic designers, engineers, small business owners, chefs, clothing designers and more at one of many Career Days

Joanne Sciulli, Solar Youth Executive Director and one of its founding members, poses with the organization’s first ever student intern. He now has a BA in Business Management and is working as an estimator.