Resettlement Newly-arrived refugees

Partner Update: Nashville International Center For Empowerment

During this season of hope, ThriftSmart is excited to partner again with with the Nashville International Center for Empowerment (NICE) by offering a way to give back via the Refugee Tree. We recently caught back up with Max Rykov from NICE, for an update on how things are going this year.

ThriftSmart: Last year the main focus of the thriftSMART refugee tree helped support our Afghan Allies that had come to town. Has the focus for this year’s partnership shifted to the Ukraine? Can you tell us more about this? What are some of the biggest struggles refugees that come to Tennessee face?

Max: First, I’d like to say that NICE is so grateful for the thriftSMART partnership! The refugee tree initiative was a really tangible and touching way that people in Nashville could support newly-arrived refugees around the holidays. Throughout the entire year, the support that thriftSMART provides NICE (through the GiveSmart program) allows our community to feel empowered by shopping on their own. From October through the end of September of 2023, NICE will welcome 235 refugees through the US Government’s refugee admissions program. In addition to that, we have already worked with over 160 Ukrainians who have come to Nashville to flee the Russian invasion. We expect the number of Ukrainians coming to our office for services to steadily grow.

Newly-arrived refugees experience a plethora of challenges when they first arrive. From learning a new language and adapting to a different culture, to navigating all the various systems that they are presented with in the United States. All while processing a significant shift in their lives and working full time – it can be overwhelming. My own family came to the US as refugees from the former Soviet Union in 1993. And I can tell you – there are still ways in which I am processing the trauma of trying to integrate into a new country, and I know that’s the case for the vast majority of immigrants and refugees.



TS: Can you tell us about the resettlement process?

Max: The resettlement process in the US actually begins abroad. Refugees under the mandate of the United Nations undergo a series of interviews and screenings, and if they become eligible for resettlement in the US, their case is assigned to an agency like NICE. There are over 100 million people around the world who are currently displaced from their homes.  But only a tiny fraction – less than half of a tenth of a percent of those are resettled in the US each year.

When a refugee comes to NICE, the very first thing we do is find their family housing. Essentially, we work up the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in accordance with federal guidelines to ensure that the people we work with have their needs met, and are provided the resources to become financially independent and prosper. There are several types of case management we provide, which includes signing up for various benefit programs and navigating them, finding employment, accessing the school and healthcare system, getting connected with community, and English language education. Of course, we can’t possibly do this work alone, and we are proud to collaborate with a wide network of community partners to help our new neighbors thrive in this next chapter of their lives.

What are some of the goals NICE has for 2023? Are there ways our followers can get involved?

In addition to our goal of continuing to provide quality services to our clients, we are also working to expand access to mental healthcare. We are so glad that access to mental healthcare is becoming understood as a vital part of a person’s overall health. Addressing and healing trauma, and working within a trauma-informed care framework, is critical to our work and for the well-being of the community we work with.

We are also expanding opportunities for volunteers to get involved with mentoring and sponsoring refugee families. Over the past year, we launched a program that connected dedicated groups of volunteers with newly-arrived refugee families, and we were so heartened to see beautiful relationships form between those mentor groups and the families they were connected to. Whether it’s taking someone to an appointment, helping them read their mail, or even taking them to a Nashville landmark or soccer game – every gesture of friendship through this form of volunteering can have profound effects on someone’s life. If you’re interested in getting involved with NICE and a refugee family in this way, you can visit https://empowernashville.org/volunteer/



People can donate items to go directly to your organization. All they have to do is let us know that is what they prefer. Are there items throughout the year that you specifically need?

Household items, small furniture, and home decor are always great because they can make someone’s first apartment truly feel like a home. Our clients also love the clothing selection at thriftSMART because the gift cards we receive allow them to shop for themselves, which may feel like a small gesture, but when so much feels beyond your control during your first few months in the US, being able to shop for yourself can feel really empowering.

What else would you like for our readers to know about NICE?

NICE is the only independent, grassroots-founded refugee agency in Middle Tennessee. Our founder and CEO, Dr. Gatluak Thach, came to the US as a refugee from South Sudan. He began an organization teaching English to his wife and other members of the Sudanese community, and it grew to an agency that has served over 40,000 since 2005. Our work is made possible by the kindness and generosity of the community here in Nashville. This city is continuing to grow and become more and more diverse and cosmopolitan. Investment in our refugee and immigrant communities is truly an investment in the future of Nashville. We have a motto at NICE that encapsulates that understanding. Diversity is our strength.

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