Hudson Valley Community College and Russell Sage College Team Up to Support Refugee Resettlement

August 29, 2023

ECAR logo

Hudson Valley Community College was awarded a $25,000 “Every Campus A Refuge” (ECAR) grant to support refugee resettlement in the Capital Region. The college will be partnering with neighboring Russell Sage College to deliver housing, education, and essential support services to assist families as they relocate to the area.

Under the leadership of the Women’s Institute and Office of Service Learning, Russell Sage was the first college in NYS to partner with ECAR and receive a grant in 2021, and Hudson Valley is the first SUNY institution to partner with ECAR and receive a program grant. The two colleges will be working with the U.S. Committee for Refugees & Immigrants (USCRI) Albany Office.

Every Campus A Refuge is a higher education initiative founded in September 2015 at Guilford College. Its mission is to make every U.S. college and university a Resettlement Campus which partners with a local refugee resettlement agency to host refugees on campus grounds and supports their successful integration. Since ECAR’s inception, 16 campuses including Lafayette College, Wake Forest University, Russell Sage College, Siena College, Washington State University, Old Dominion University, James Madison University, and Clemson University among others have started their own ECAR Chapters. ECAR has been recognized by the White House, the United Nations, and with several higher education community engagement awards. In addition to mobilizing universities to support refugee families, ECAR is a member of the U.S. Department of State’s Welcome Corps on Campus consortium, and will be supporting private sponsor groups at colleges and universities as they sponsor refugee students. For more information about ECAR, visit their website.

Dr. Diya Abdo, Founder and Director of Every Campus A Refuge, served as The Women’s Institute’s visiting Affiliate Scholar last year and helped to further develop the ECAR program at Russell Sage. ECAR and The Women’s Institute hosted a certificate-bearing training for potential new chapters in May 2023, and Hudson Valley is the first of the participating institutions to mobilize and become an ECAR chapter.

Hudson Valley and Russell Sage will support families in the first few months of their resettlement in the area. By providing temporary housing and a wide range of support services, refugee families will have the space and assistance for a softer landing and a stronger beginning in their new communities. Since 2020, Russell Sage has partnered with USCRI to build “Good Neighbor Teams,” organizing groups of faculty, staff, and students to provide direct support to recently arrived refugee families. With the expanding partnerships with Hudson Valley and ECAR, the colleges can help multiple new families in the coming months.

“This past year a number of refugees resettled by USCRI benefitted from the support of ECAR, specifically Russell Sage College, and we welcome and look forward to the opportunity to expand our partnership with HVCC,” said Dr. David Sussman, Director of USCRI, Albany.

Hudson Valley will provide a program coordinator and offer English as a second language instruction, high school classes and career preparation courses, along with dedicated enrollment advisement, healthcare navigation support, employment advisement, among other services. Russell Sage will offer temporary on-campus housing. Both colleges will deepen partnerships with area refugee resettlement agencies, create student engagement activities and events, and co-sponsor community educational opportunities.

“We are so pleased to partner with neighboring Russell Sage College to forge a unique partnership that will help refugee families resetting in the area and to become the first SUNY ECAR chapter,” said President Roger Ramsammy. “Our goal is to ease the burden of resettlement and assist those in our own community who need essential education, language skills, job training and wraparound services to start building a new life. By collaborating with Russell Sage, we are bringing together the strengths of both colleges and plan to support ECAR families in a way that neither college could independently.”

“Russell Sage College emphasizes its role in building healthier communities, and that mission includes welcoming newcomers to our community, who enhance the cultural landscape and provide us all with a deeper understanding of the world,” said Russell Sage President Christopher Ames. “We are proud to partner with both ECAR and Hudson Valley in this work as it provides our students with opportunities to make a difference and helps them grow as citizens and future professionals.”

“We are delighted that Hudson Valley Community College is joining the growing ECAR network of colleges and universities supporting refugee newcomers to the Capital Region; these institutions, like Russell Sage College and Siena College, are providing their newest community members with a softer landing and a stronger beginning, all while engaging their students in related transformative educational experiences and deepening local community ties,” said Dr. Diya Abdo, Founder and Director of Every Campus A Refuge (ECAR). “Hudson Valley is also a wonderful example of how community colleges are playing the role of anchor institutions in their cities. And as the first SUNY school to participate in the ECAR program, Hudson Valley will lead the way for many more to follow suit. Very importantly, the partnership between Hudson Valley and Russell Sage College presents a new and innovative model of participating in the ECAR program that brings together a public and a private college, and allows an institution without on-campus housing to serve newcomer families in sustained and meaningful ways.”

Catherine Willis, a faculty member at Hudson Valley, will serve as the ECAR coordinator and act as the first line of communication for ECAR families, as well as coordinating with the Russell Sage Women's Institute Executive Director Shelly Calabrese, and Ali Schaeffing, Director of Service Learning and Community Engagement. Willis will oversee an ECAR advisory team that includes students, faculty, staff and community organization representatives to increase support for ECAR, refugee and new immigrant families in our community.

Several existing college programs will support the refugee families, including Hudson Valley’s Capital District Educational Opportunity Center, which offers education and skills-based training for careers at no cost. The college also offers academic support services, tutoring, mentoring, credit for practical/work experience, a childcare center, counseling and wellness services and a food pantry, which will be available to ECAR families. Universal CDTA ridership is also provided to Hudson Valley and EOC students and will be provided to the families.

The ECAR grant provides supplemental funding for needs not covered by donations, including cell phones, mattresses, and WiFi. Funds are also earmarked for moving expenses and first month’s rent to transition to permanent off-campus housing. Additional resources will be raised through Hudson Valley’s Foundation in conjunction with Russell Sage.

Under President Roger Ramsammy, Hudson Valley established an Office of Global Initiatives and established many new partnerships with organizations that support refugee and immigrant populations, including Refugee and Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus (RISSE) and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). Through proactive college outreach and events with refugee, immigrant and faith-based organizations, the college has increased enrollment in ESL courses, with a leap from serving 115 students between 2004-2018 to a total of 284 students in 2020.

Hudson Valley currently serves students from more than 35 foreign countries each year. Recognizing the need to expand services beyond the Capital Region, the college adopted a new mission statement during its 2019 strategic planning process, codifying its aim to provide transformative, student centered and high-quality educational opportunities that address the diverse needs of local and global communities.

Since then, the college has introduced a variety of new initiatives, including offering non-credit ESL courses at no cost at Centro Civico in Albany; hosting the inaugural Refugee and Immigrant Community Forum to engage in an interactive dialogue with agencies that support resettlement; welcoming the International Center of the Capital Region’s headquarters to campus; and announcing that its Capital District Educational Opportunity Center is partnering with the Refugee and Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus to offer free English as a Second Language classes for adults who want to learn English as a new language.

In April, Hudson Valley received a prestigious Global Citizenship Award of Excellence from the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics, recognizing the college’s commitment to providing the exemplary strategies and tools needed to prepare students for a global world.

The ECAR initiative has been recognized by the White House, United Nations, and at the sixth annual President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge Gathering. It has been featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered” with Ari Shapiro, WUNC’s “The State of Things” with Frank Stasio, and in the Washington Post, and is part of the State Department Toolkit on how universities can help refugees. Every Campus A Refuge has won the Yousif Badri Civic Engagement International Prize from Ahfad University in Omdurman, Sudan (2021), the Gulf South Summit’s Outstanding Service-Learning Collaboration in Higher Education Award (2017), and The Washington Center’s Higher Education Civic Engagement Award (2017).

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