Summer Reading Inspires Service

JU United Supply Drive & Soccer Game to Benefit Local Refugee Children


Before the fall 2014 semester picks up speed and Jacksonville University’s incoming freshman start to settle into different parts of campus scene, they are, for a moment, united.

Over the summer, the first-year-students shared a common reading experience of the book, “Outcasts United,” which tells the story of young refugees on a soccer team in the small town of Clarkston, GA. Now, within their first few days of calling the JU campus home, incoming students have an opportunity to not only consider the social issues discussed in the book, but to take action.

With the initiative JU United, the Orientation Team created a way for the university’s students, faculty and staff to come together to make a positive impact on the lives of refugees living in the Jacksonville community.

“I hope that it shows them that they are not just here to take, but to also give,” said Orientation Educational Programs Coordinator and Senior Elementary Education Major Jessica Parker.

Working in cooperation with World Relief and Lutheran Social Services, JU United is collecting donations of new socks and underwear, as well as new or gently used books, toys, sports balls and children’s sneakers for the city’s refugee children.

“Refugee kids have kind of lost the ability to have a childhood and this is one way that we can help them have a childhood again,” said Heather Downs, assistant professor of sociology.

Downs, who worked alongside Parker to orchestrate the initiative, said this is the first time that JU has organized a campus wide giving event in cooperation with the common reading book.

“I think people, a lot of times, read a book about a social issue and they want to do something,” she said. “So here is something really easy that you can do when you do your back to school shopping. You pick up a package of socks to help these kids or you pick up a toy to donate. It doesn’t have to be expensive because it’s all appreciated.”


Donate and Participate

Donations are being accepted through Friday Aug. 22 in the Student Solutions Center. Saturday Aug. 23, the JU United service event concludes with a faculty-student soccer game. Donations will be accepted throughout the game, which takes place 10 a.m. to noon on the Intramural Field as part of the 2014 All-Star Move In and Kick-Off to College Weekend.

Professors slated to play include Downs, Associate Director of Aeronautics Mark Willette, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Organic Chemistry Joseph Cradlebaugh, Ph.D., and Associate Professor of Biology and Marine Science Natasha Vanderhoff, Ph.D.

Refugees in Jacksonville

An average of 1,000 to 1,200 refugees are received in Jacksonville each year by one of the city’s three resettlement organizations; World Relief, LSS and Catholic Charities. Jacksonville’s refugee population represents all parts of the world, with the majority of refugees received in recent years arriving from Burma, Iraq and Cuba.

The U.S. Code defines a refugee as any person outside of the U.S. that is of special humanitarian concern to the U.S. and “has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” according to a July 28 article by the Pew Research Center.

The process of gaining refugee status can be difficult and long, often taking years and multiple applications.


“There is no one refugee story,” said Jennifer Arnold, community engagement manager for LSS. “Some people are coming from refugee camps, some people have been in the camps for months, some have been in camps for years. Some were never in a camp. There is not one path or experience that is the same for everyone.”

The U.S. is one of about 10 countries presently accepting refugees. Since 1975, more than 3 million refugees have sought safety in the U.S., according the Department of State.

Upon arrival, refugees receive an apartment and 90 days to become self-sufficient, with the help of resettlement organizations like World Relief, LSS and Catholic Charities.

“I think people probably think that they get a whole lot more government support than they actually do,” Arnold said. “I can’t imagine being dropped in Burma and being expected to be self-sufficient in 90 days.”



 Volunteer Opportunities 

LSS and World Relief have great volunteer and service project opportunities for individual JU students and student groups. Some of these include opportunities for translators for several languages, particularly Spanish, Arabic and Burmese, and volunteers to help set up apartments for new refugees before their arrival.

“Accepting and welcoming refugees, I think is a very American thing to do,” Arnold said. “We’re a nation of immigrants and it fits in perfectly with what we’re supposed to be about as a nation.”

Interested volunteers can contact Downs, the JU Service Learning, or Arnold at [email protected] or 904.730.8266.

“So many of the problems in the world are cause by fear, and the fear really comes from lack of understanding,” she said. “By educating people on the issues and getting to know these new Jacksonville-ians, hopefully you can dispel that.”