Every year, thousands of refugees are formally welcomed to the United States, carrying dreams of a better life and the desire to escape political, religious and ethnic persecution, or the violence of war within their home country. In the early 1990′s, refugees began to be resettled in the community of Clarkston, GA, a small town located near metro Atlanta. During this time, the population of Clarkston grew 34% as refugee families from over 150 different ethnic groups found a supportive urban environment for development and growth. Since this process began, some 60,000 refugees have begun their journeys as New Americans in this area. With so many ethnic groups represented within and around the city, Clarkston has been called “the most diverse square mile in America” by the New York Times Magazine.
As the refugee population in Clarkston grew, the need for specialized human support service organizations became apparent. Friends of Refugees (FOR) was founded in 1995 for this purpose by Pat Maddox, a resident of Clarkston, full-time volunteer and current active Board member. Pat grew up in Clarkston when many of the streets were still dirt and when the pharmacy and grocery store were owned by family friends. She left Clarkston to attend nursing school in Florida, where she later married.
In December of 1995, Pat relocated back to Clarkston. One morning while attending church, Pat came upon an ad in a newsletter asking for volunteers to help meet the needs of a couple of newly arrived Bosnian refugee families. Pat’s connection with these families made a lasting impression on her heart that led her into the world of refugees and has helped drive the humanitarian efforts of FOR. Pat’s visionary service paved the way to what FOR would become.
In 2005, Friends of Refugees became an official non-profit organization whose mission is “to empower refugees through opportunities that provide for their well-being, education and employment.” Our ten programs help New Americans seize opportunities while bringing them into relationships that will help them flourish.
In 2015, Friends of Refugees’ volunteers gave more than 40,000 hours to serve over 4,000 individuals across 7 program areas. These programs facilitated hundreds of job placements, served over 150 kids in our summer camp and after-school programs, taught hundreds of moms and kids English together, welcomed dozens of babies born to healthy moms in our labor doula program, filled over 90 family kitchen tables with fresh produce from their plots in our community gardens, created thousands of handcrafted items in the Refugee Sewing Society, and helped launch 16 new businesses through the StartME business accelerator.