Did you know there are an estimated 1,076,837 people who call Mecklenburg County “home”? With native Charlotteans being referred to as “Unicorns” because they are so hard to find, it's no surprise that the majority of people who live in our vibrant city migrated here from elsewhere. Many of those people being immigrants and refugees who are resettling here for a new life and bringing their own culture and traditions to our ever-growing city.
Since the mid-1990’s, approximately 17,000 refugees have resettled in Charlotte, North Carolina. Additionally, an estimated 130,000 immigrants live in our wonderful city, making up about 14% of Mecklenburg County’s total population,
As the immigrant and refugee populations have become more established, our city has become more of an immigrant destination due to the existing community, economic opportunities and strong services and the populations continue to grow. According to Census data, immigrants and refugees are congregating in Charlotte’s eastside, making it the most ethnically diverse community in the city, with a population of 33.5% foreign-born residents, over half of who arrived after 2000.
An important distinction to make is the difference between immigrants and refugees. An immigrant is someone who makes a conscious decision to leave his or her home and move to a foreign country with the intention of settling there, but they are often free to return home whenever they choose. Alternatively, a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her home because of war, violence or persecution, often without warning. Refugees are unable to return home unless or until conditions in their native lands are safe for them again.
Because a large portion of our population and neighbors are either immigrants or refugees, this month we will be using our Spotlight Series as a platform to address not only the presence and added value of these populations in Charlotte, but to highlight our local nonprofit partners who offer resources and diverse services for the immigrant and refugee communities.
The Nest Academy
The Nest Academy’s vision is to change the lives of Charlotte's refugee, immigrant and under privileged students to overcome educational barriers and obstacles in an environment that gives them great hope, love, and acceptance. They instill faith and confidence to achieve excellence in their lives. Their mission is to empower, enrich and educate children who are at greater risk of slipping through the cracks of our public school system and to propel them forward to academic success through an individualized, strategic education plan designed for their learning styles. This local nonprofit began by making a difference in the lives of five refugee girls in 2009 by alleviating the barriers and pressures of public school, and whose circumstances had stunted their academic success and since then the academy has grown from 5 girls in 2009 to 10 girls in 2011, and to 20 girls in 2012, and the addition of 5 boys in 2013. In 2019, they had 17 students and 1 graduate who received her diploma this May 31, 2019.
Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency's (CRRA) main responsibility is assisting refugee arrivals to begin their lives in the United States. Services by the agency include apartment rental and preparation, enrollment in public schools and social services, transportation to initial medical appointments, assistance obtaining employment and vocational education.
Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte has been serving the community since 1949. They are dedicated to providing help to those in need, hope to those in despair and inspiration for others to follow. Their focus is on the displaced and less fortunate. Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte has served over 19,000 clients in Western NC and resettled over 15,000 refugees representing 27 nationalities over the past 40 years.
Refugee Support Services
Refugee Support Services connects the local refugee community with American families in Charlotte through their Fruitful Friends program. The program is designed to match refugee families with American families in order to build lasting and transformative relationships that enrich the lives of all parties involved. Refugee Support Services also teaches self-sufficiency skills like cooking classes and financial literacy at their Help Center, where they work to empower refugees to thrive in American society. The Help Center also features food delivery, events for local refugee families and helps teach basic life skills.
FOCHUS provides educational support services and resources for the children of Montagnard refugees from Vietnam living in West Charlotte. This includes cost-free after school services (homework, literacy, and language skills support) four days a week in a neighborhood setting, summer enrichment, and entrepreneurial training. They also equip Montagnard young adults in peacemaking and conflict resolution and provide opportunities to use those skills on short-term missions trips to Vietnam.
Fashion & Compassion supports vulnerable and oppressed women by providing transitional employment, supportive community and connections to individualized resources that empower women who are charting a courageous path toward a self-sustaining life of purpose. Their Artisans participate in a diverse community where they make jewelry as well as learn work readiness skills, receive emotional support and have opportunities for spiritual growth. Their Artisans are overcoming trafficking, addiction, incarceration, abuse as well as refugees and immigrants
International House is a leading provider of direct services to Charlotte’s ever-growing international community, which numbers more than 104,000 immigrants and foreign-born citizens. They are a grassroots nonprofit organization with a mission to promote international understanding and to serve immigrants in need. International house offers foreign-language conversation hours, cultural events, an international book club, citizen diplomacy programs, an international women’s group, language classes, free citizenship workshops, legal services for low-income immigrants, and much more.
La Coalición is an immigrant rights organization that is pioneering a model for 21st century democracy building and inclusive community engagement in North Carolina -- a region that has never before experienced such dramatic demographic shifts. They have developed a multifaceted approach to promote justice and equity called Social Service to Social Action, a strategy that traces an intentional path through direct service intervention, integration support, alliance building, institution and systems change – all building toward meaningful culture and policy change.
Learning Help Centers of Charlotte provides scholastic, spiritual, and social supports to empower at-risk families to lift themselves out of generational poverty. They engage with at-risk families through weekly homework support, mentoring and annual summer enrichment camps for children, mentoring and crises interventions for parents, and family enrichment events, all of which strive to educate and empower parents and children to become community leaders.
ourBRIDGE for KIDS is an out-of-school program for refugee and immigrant children that helps them achieve academic success and integration into the community through innovative instructional methods and a celebration of cultural diversity. They offer an experiential-based learning curriculum to help students achieve the fundamentals of English language acquisition through activities that incorporate STEAM elements and encourage cultural pride and inclusion, civic engagement, community involvement, problem solving and critical thinking. Moreover, they strive to support the whole child by creating a nurturing environment where children’s beliefs, experiences and opinions are heard, valued and embraced.
Project 658 meets the immediate needs of Charlotte's international community while developing long term relationships. They provide english classes for adults, a clothing store, child care, after school, medical services, counseling, culinary training, and job development opportunities.
Camino Community Center
The Camino Community Center recognizes that you do not need to go overseas to serve a foreign population, they realize the need is in our own city. Their first initiative was to start a free medical clinic for the uninsured Latino population of Charlotte. Bethesda Health Center became a place of hope and health for many Latino neighbors and as they served these people, they became aware of many other needs which have now inspired a food pantry, a homeless outreach, and a thrift store. Their integrated model now serves over 20,000 people a year. What was started as a service to the Latino community has now become a place that serves all people in need.