Students volunteer to help refugees in Kentucky

WKU Students volunteer at the International Center of Kentucky on March 3 by sorting and folding clothing donations for refugees. The resettlement agency helps immigrants “fully integrate and thrive in the United States” according the the organization’s website. WKU graduate Kaycee Gibson (far right), 22, of Horse Cave, Ky. who is the volunteer coordinator, says it receives “tons of clothing donations almost every day…we just don’t have the hands to do it.”

Jamie Williams

Members of the Council of International Students and the Student Government Association volunteered to help refugees on Friday while connecting international and domestic students.

Students from both groups filled a room in the International Center of Kentucky that was piled high with clothing donations for refugees. Over the course of three hours, the group organized the items by size to get the donations ready for refugees to pick up.

“It just seemed like the perfect way to give back, especially since we are promoting sort of an international flair on campus and trying to be a school with international reach,” SGA Senator Andi Dahmer said.

Dahmer is chair of the SGA MyCampusToo Committee, which encourages diversity on WKU’s campus. Dahmer planned the volunteer event along with fellow SGA Senator Hizareth Linares, who chairs SGA Standing Against Violence and for Ending Self-Harm Committee and is president of the Council of International Student Organizations.

Dahmer said MyCampusToo had been looking for different initiatives and several students approached her with an interest in volunteering for the International Center of Kentucky. Dahmer said giving these students the opportunity to volunteer together let American and international students interact while being able to help the refugee community in Kentucky.

“I think we’ve learned from this experience that volunteer activities are great not only for the community but also as a way to get to know each other better,” Dahmer said. “I’ve made some really good friends today, and I’m hopeful we can continue to do things like this in the future.”

The International Center of Kentucky takes volunteers one or two Saturdays per month to sort through the donation room for a few hours. The International Center accepts donations of clothing, blankets and other household items almost daily. While the student group from WKU sorted through most of one room, there are two others like it, along with a warehouse.

“I would absolutely love more volunteers,” Americorps Volunteer Coordinator Kaycee Gibson said. Gibson mentors the volunteers and interns at the International Center.

Several times a month, refugees are allowed to take as many items as they need from the donation room. Since the refugees are all brought into the room at the same time, sometimes a mess is left behind; Gibson said she’s working on gathering volunteers to help on pick-up days and putting up signs to show how clothing sizes are organized.

While the International Center routinely receives donations, there are still some items in short supply.

“Right now my focus is on cleaning supplies,” Gibson said. “We are in dire need of cleaning products, shoes and baby stuff.”

In addition to providing refugees with clothing and basic household items, the International Center offers English as a second language classes, a daycare and training on how to use GO bg Transit services. The International Center accepts volunteers who can apply for solo or group volunteering via its website.

“It makes me really happy when people who have never volunteered before come here and are just in love with it, just to hang up some clothes,” Gibson said. “It’s great to watch that person have that initial spark of volunteering.”

For SGA Executive Vice President Kate Hart, Friday’s volunteer event was the first time she had been involved at the International Center. Though Hart had wanted to volunteer in the past, she had trouble knowing how to get involved and finding time to do it.

“Hopefully, this will be the start of a lot of work here because I’ve always wanted to work here,” Hart said. 

Reporter Jamie Williams can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]