The Somali Community of Western New York (SCWNY) was founded in 2002 to serve Somali refugees in Western New York. As the population of refugees expanded and SCWNY expanded its services to other refugee groups, the organization changed its name to Refugees Helping Refugees (RHR) to express its expanded vision.
RHR seeks to foster the growth, self-determination, and self-reliance of Rochester’s refugee community by making them agents of their own advancement. It seeks to become a comprehensive community center providing a full range of services to its own community while also welcoming people from all cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds.
RHR is a 501 (c)(3) organization.
Initial RHR programs focused on services for Somali elders. Somali women were acutely aware of the suffering of their elders who were isolated and depressed, sitting at home alone behind drawn blinds while their children worked. Once the RHR center was established, Somali seniors joined other American seniors for lunch, exercise classes, and socialization activities two days a week.
Students soon began to request English classes. Many also wanted citizenship training and case management services to help with government forms written in English. By January 2012, a four-day per week program had begun. Certified English as a Second Language teachers volunteered their time, and the program was certified by Monroe County as an ESOL training site. Students ages 23-75 from Somalia, Burma, Congo, Nepal and Ethiopia attended the classes.
Seniors also expressed concerns about the Somali youth in their community. Young people didn’t know Somali language and culture and didn’t always respect their elders. In response to these concerns, the RHR organized an 8-week summer program, the Intergenerational Somali Summer Program (ISSP). A final ceremony showcased Somali dance and singing by youth to an audience of over 200 people in 2014.
A certified work experience program (WEP) through RochesterWorks! started in November 2012. Teachers and volunteers teach classes in cooking, sewing, healthcare, and computer skills. This program provides hands-on work experience in a culturally-friendly site.