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Photo courtesy Project Worthmore

Building Community with Colorado Refugees

Project Worthmore has helped 7,000 refugee families gain self-sufficiency in the Denver area since 2012.

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Ten years ago, when Frank Anello volunteered to help a refugee family from Burma, he got a clear picture of the overwhelming number of needs within the refugee community. “They want to learn how to communicate with their kids’ teachers, communicate on the bus, shop at a grocery store, interview for a job, do a resume, open a bank account,” Anello explains. “They’ve been through a lot of trauma and are trying to rebuild their lives.”

Colorado is home to nearly 60,000 refugees who have fled their home countries due to violence, war, or persecution. And despite resettlement agencies’ best efforts to provide housing and help them find work upon arrival, Anello saw that there weren’t enough resources to ensure that refugees could maintain long-term self-sufficiency.

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“After six months, [the refugee] becomes less of a priority, because of new refugees coming in,” Anello explains. “It’s really difficult to check back in on those families. The agency helps you find a job, but does not continue to help you find jobs.” Anello adds that refugees must reimburse the government for the cost of their airplane tickets to the United States, which can be a significant amount of debt for families.

It was these concerns that spurred Anello and his wife Carolyn—who were parents of two very young children at the time—to found Project Worthmore (PWM) in 2011. The organization offers a variety of programs to foster self-sufficiency and improve the quality of life for Denver-area refugees.

The name, Anello says, came from something the father of the Burmese family with whom he volunteered said: I feel worthless here. “We look at what the barriers are, listen to what the refugees say they need, and do our best to eliminate [those barriers],” Anello says.

One way PWM helps eliminate the barrier of social adjustment to a new culture is through the Family Partner program, which pairs a volunteer family with a refugee family. “Basically, you are doing life together with a family from another culture,” explains Anello. “Diversity is all around us, and it’s so beautiful to include your family in that.”

How Families Can Help »

Become a family partner with a refugee family. PWM provides training, and asks that the volunteer family make at least a three-month commitment to their refugee family, with the hope that the relationship will last a full year or longer. “You’ll need to have patience, because there are a lot of challenges,” Anello says. “But at the same time, it is extremely rewarding.”

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