ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — “How do you get on Zoom?” Just one of many questions Canopy NWA handled for the more than three dozen students regarding virtual learning during the pandemic.
Canopy NWA helped school-aged refugees through a virtual mentorship called “The Summer Success Program.” Students had limited language exposure at home, so the non-profit made sure they [students] had a digital engagement. “This was meaningful for students, but it also took time to build a virtual relationship,” said Canopy NWA Executive Director Joanna Krause.
The agency reached out to its vast volunteer network to find mentors to help students digitally. “We have generous volunteers, some even from outside of Northwest Arkansas, bringing many talents … it has been incredible,” said Krause.
It also helped that many mentors had experience with students who were limited English speakers.
Forty students participated in “The Summer Success Program,” who were mainly from upper elementary age to high school.
Canopy NWA did a bit of intervention at this level as well, to make sure all the students had access to the internet.
“Not every family did, so we looked for additional resources such as internet providers that offered lower costs for families on a fixed income,” said Krause, “This was done early on when the pandemic started.”
There were fundraisers, such as Canopy NWA’s Crisis Relief fund, which ensured that every family had an electronic device — Tablet, Chrome Book.
For students to get their school lunches, Canopy NWA worked with the schools and local food pantries. “We delivered lunches to the families who could not get to these places … we did a no-contact drop off at their porch,” said Krause.
If virtual learning wasn’t challenging enough for families, using public transportation to get to the grocery store was something that changed because of COVID-19.
The bus schedules were reduced to once an hour, and only nine riders were allowed on the bus. “After waiting an hour, the bus may go right by them because it may have reached the maximum ridership,” said Krause, “so then they wait another hour and hope there is room on the next bus.”
Canopy NWA held COVID-19 virtual practices and made sure that information was translated. Also, this gave families a chance to ask questions so they could get up to speed about the pandemic. Health equity came into play and it was important refugees had access to the information.
To prepare for the coming year and to overcome the hardships from COVID-19, Canopy NWA is holding their annual benefit event, “The Art of Welcome” virtually from September 14-18.
Canopy NWA opened in 2016 and its mission is to resettle refugees in Northwest Arkansas. The non-profit accepts about 50 people every year who are leaving their countries to avoid persecution or violence.
In the current fiscal year, which began October 2019, Canopy NWA resettled four families. The US Refugee Admissions Program resumed July 30th with rigorous COVID-19 guidelines in place. Canopy NWA is waiting to see if they will be able to welcome more families this fall.