Terry Johns, executive director, and Kelli Kyle, director of community involvement, spoke on behalf of the nonprofit organization at Thursday’s Kiwanis meeting.
The median income of the families helped by The Refuge is $18,849. There is a 9 percent unemployment rate with 41 percent of the families below poverty.
“What it indicates to us, and what we found out by working there, is underemployment,” Johns said. “People working minimum-wage jobs, part-time employment, seasonal work, and so forth.”
Further demographics reveal there is a 42.6 percent high school graduation rate in east Cleveland. These findings compare underwhelmingly to Bradley County’s 79.6 percent graduation rate.
“One of our key focuses is to make sure we find a way to help protect the children in our community as much as we can,” Johns said. “We serve in a community where there is addiction, dysfunction, and abuse. There are all kinds of things going on.”
Refuge’s programs attempt to provide empowerment for families in need. Johns said they have a threefold strategy: access, information and opportunity.
“We work with them, and they work with us, to help them find their own solutions to their own needs,” Johns said. “We cannot give it to them, so we focus on helping them understand what they need to do.”
Johns said the organization has helped almost 45 individuals find jobs this year.
According to the nonprofit’s pamphlet, “The Refuge offers access to resources, information and opportunity, so that those who find themselves in difficult economic and social situations may move from need to substantiality.”
Services offered by Refuge include: assessment and consultation; computer lab (free to community); disaster relief: Bradley County Chain Gang; educational services (college/grant applications); job search and resume writing assistance; literacy classes; referral to other service providers; rental listing; and special events.
Kyle discussed the special events provided by Refuge to the community. These events can also be found at www.therefugecommunity.org.
“We are going on our third year for The Refuge Community Christmas,” Kyle said. “We set it up like a shopping center for our parents.”
Children are entertained by puppets and crafts while their parents “shop” for Christmas gifts. The brand new toys are separated according to gender. Parents can grab two gifts per child.
The gifts are wrapped and then children see their parents holding “pretty wrapped” gifts.
“We use about 50 volunteers for this event. We will probably use even more this year. ... We had like 14 gift wrappers last year,” Kyle said “... There were 459 children were served last year from 193 families, and we have already received calls about this year’s Christmas program.”
An annual School Supplies Provision event provides hundreds of low-income students with book bags and supplies each year. According to Kyle, 483 bags were provided to students this year. This was more than double the amount of last year’s 221.
Additional special events and services include the Fall Festival, Clean Cleveland Project, and Welcome Newborn program.