Chamber Chat - El Refugio

Mar 03

By Meg Moss


El Refugio is a Christian organization that aims to improve the quality of life for everyone in Sanford and Lee County by building bridges between transitioning immigrants and established residents through sharing, learning, and serving our community together while respecting cultural identities.


Their mission is to promote opportunities for interaction between cultures that encourage positive relationships based on sharing knowledge, hopes and experiences. They also aim to foster individual growth in Lee County by identifying people’s needs and talents, and finding the resources to develop them.


El Refugio offers English and Spanish language programs, healthy eating programs, and assistance for individuals studying for citizenship. These classes run for ten weeks, and meet at Jonesboro United Methodist Church on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm. Free childcare is provided, and is engaging for the children. They work on art projects, and will be doing a recycling project during the next set of classes.


During the language classes, you can opt to learn English or Spanish. Knowing Spanish is a great job skill, so I encourage anyone who is a job seeker to utilize these free classes to upgrade your skills.


Citizenship classes also run 10 weeks. Participants get prepared to take the citizenship test through lessons in US history, as well as learning current government leadership and current events. The citizenship test has both written and verbal portions. Once an individual takes the citizenship class and sends in an application to take the test, it can take anywhere from 4 weeks up to a year or more to get an appointment date. During that waiting time, El Refugio offers one on one tutoring to make sure the student is prepared for the test.


El Refugio states that all these programs are provided without cost to participants, thanks to funding from The Duke Endowment, Z Smith Reynolds Foundation, Lee County Arts Council, United Way of Lee County, civic organizations, churches, businesses and individuals. And El Refugio is an outreach of Jonesboro United Methodist Church (JUMC), which houses its offices and classes.


El Refugio also provides cross-cultural engagement activities like Festival Latino, and International Culture Night.


The Festival Latino takes place each year on the first Saturday in October. This celebration focuses on enjoying the Central American culture, and takes place at JUMC.


International Culture night began in 2017 and was also held at JUMC. The turnout and community participation was so great, that Elf Refugio needed to move it to a larger facility. That’s where the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center comes in. This event focuses not just on the Latino population, but on all cultures represented in Lee County – and there are a lot!


Although not limited to the El Refugio students, the students are the majority of the participants who showcase different countries around the world during International Culture Night. El Refugio hopes that with each year, the event will continue to grow, representing additional countries. Their idea for this event it to show our entire community the different backgrounds we have in Lee County. The event is free and open to the public.


This year’s International Culture night is this Thursday, March 7th from 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center. There will be food from various countries, exhibits and music from throughout the world. This particular El Refugio project is supported by the NC Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. I hope that you plan to attend! I took my youngest son last year, and his favorite part was learning to write his name in Chinese!


New classes at El Refugio start April 15th and run through June 20th. They can be reached at (919) 352-9709.

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