On Saturday, November 16th, the Baltimore Orientation Center was busy. Seven long tables were set up inside, each covered in brightly colored African cloth and countless drawings of turkeys. Over a hundred people sat together at these tables to eat a meal of ham, sweet potatoes, 36 pounds of turkey, and fried noodles made in the Burmese style.
Recipes originated from Darfur, New Jersey, Nigeria, Bhutan and Pennsylvania Dutch country. It was an early Thanksgiving celebration for all of the families and individuals who participate in the mentoring programs at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Baltimore City Community College’s Refugee Youth Project. There are currently 73 Family, Employment and Youth mentors, volunteers from the Baltimore community who are paired with refugees arriving from all over the world to restart their lives in America.
Some of the refugee families at the dinner on Saturday were living in camps in Rwanda and Uganda less than two months ago. Other families have been in Baltimore for a year or two already. For many, Saturday was their first taste of Thanksgiving. There were mixed feelings about the stuffing.
Before the meal started, people shared what they were thankful for. “Family,” “neighbors,” “friends and food” different individuals called out. “Life” shouted an excited eight year old, and the teenage girl sitting across from him nodded her head and said, “Yes, to be alive every day.”
When the room got too warm, groups of people spilled out onto the sidewalk along Eastern Avenue, adding their conversation to the sounds of traffic and Baltimore on a Saturday night. Two determined Congolese toddlers made their way through a sea of legs to find the pumpkin pie, whipped cream, and giant platter of Greek cake called halva at the end of the meal.
It feels great when I get a response to a posted request! And, I’ll join this great employment mentoring program tomorrow with my first clients (from Bhutan). Stay tuned for updates about another successful mentoring program connecting our clients to community through employment.