By Claudia Bellofatto SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News)–While many Syracuse people may be familiar with the recent influx of immigrants and refugees, the majority of people are unaware of their journey to citizenship.
Formerly known as the Somali Bantu Community Association (SBCA), RISE— standing for refugee and immigrant self-empowerment–was founded by refugees in 2004 to ease the transition of refugees settling in Onondaga County.
When the organization first began, the founders decided that education would be the best way to climb the ladder of success in their new environment. What started as small homework groups at one of the member’s home lead to several moves in the Syracuse area–from a spot at Dr.King Elementary School, to the central Village Youth Center, and now their new spot on Burt Street.
As the organization was able to expand, it was able to find more support and offerings for students. It became a resource for other similar communities in the area and eventually added more opportunities for refugees and immigrants such as ESL classes, case management, interpretation and translation, and job placement services.
Phillip Goettel is one of the few volunteer teachers at RISE. He says that more volunteers could be used and he emphasizes how important the contribution is.
“We teach government. We talk about police and hospitals and how things work–and they need it. They need to know,” Goettel says.
He teaches a few days a week, on top of his other job and volunteer work teaching. Goettel says classes vary every day, as do the students.
“I love doing this. I love seeing these people. I look forward to seeing these people, even the ones that come and go,” he says.
Classes are focused on employment, education, and economic empowerment. But for many refugees, the basics of english like reading, writing and speaking are the first concern. The work that Goettel and other teachers do is non-payed. But Goettel says he says he’s not in it for the money.
“There’s something inside you … that matters. These people are wonderful.”