Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Helping Those Away from Homelands UNF Class Collects Goods for Refugees

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Helping Those Away from Homelands UNF Class Collects Goods for Refugees

Article excerpt

Nina Zatezalo picked through the bags of food, household appliances, toys and furniture she and other volunteers had collected yesterday for refugee families in Jacksonville.

"I just want to get them some clothes," the University of North Florida freshman said as she pulled a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt from a bag, held it up and examined it for size.

Zatezalo was among 20 students in a UNF program that helps refugee families. The students collected bags and bags of household items for thousands of people who flee here each year.

"It's as much about awareness as actually collecting the stuff," said Lauren Rymer, a UNF senior who help start the one-credit refugee issues class at the university. "A lot of people don't know there are about 11,000 refugees living here in Jacksonville."

Most come from war-torn Bosnia and Kosovo, and most can use the help in their early days here, said Russell Bloom, refugee and immigrant services director at Lutheran Social Services.

In recent years, the agency has helped settle about 1,000 refugees annually in the Jacksonville area. This year, it helped place about 600 Bosnians and 200 Kosovars in homes and helped them find jobs. Many also come from Cuba, Haiti and African countries, Bloom said.

The first year is the toughest. That's when families struggle with language barriers as they fill out job applications, register children in schools and sign apartment leases, Bloom said.

After the first year, 98 percent of employable refugees have jobs and are mostly self-sufficient, Bloom said.

But for hundreds of refugee families, this holiday season will be the first away from their homelands, where many left relatives as well as most of their belongings, Rymer said.

Students in the honors program course each sponsor one family, which they are referred to by Lutheran Social Services. …

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