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 1990s, 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 as refugee families from more than 150 different ethnic groups found a supportive urban environment for development and growth. Since this process began, more than 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. 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, she saw a notice in a newsletter asking for volunteers to help meet the needs of some newly arrived 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 work of FOR. Pat’s visionary answer to God’s call on her life paved the way to what FOR would become.
In 2005, Friends of Refugees became an official 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is “to empower refugees through opportunities that provide for their well-being, education and employment.” Our programs help New Americans seize opportunities while bringing them into relationships that will help them flourish. Today, in 2022, Friends of Refugees provides programs that teach hundreds of moms and kids English together, welcome dozens of babies born to healthy moms, fill family kitchen tables with fresh produce from garden plots, help launch new businesses, and strengthen existing entrepreneurs.