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Amarillo refugee community center looks back on a year of success

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AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) – It’s been a year of success for an area refugee community center, The PLACE, which is not only benefiting refugees.

The PLACE is a place for language, art, culture and economic growth for refugees.

It’s a collaboration between three different organizations, which are Refugee Language Project, We Find In Love and Square Mile Community Development.

“It’s difficult to identify where can you go to find everything you need? Because traditionally, in this city, we’ve had many people serving refugees in disparate locations and it’s difficult for them to know, how can I get the help that I need,’” said Dr. Ryan Pennington, executive director, Refugee Language Project.

Dr. Pennington says its hard to have an exact number of how many refugees are in Amarillo, but the number 15,000 is usually thrown around and it’s a diverse population of where they come from.

“Every year there are new groups coming, Afghanistan was a big population of people who came this year, but next year, we expect Ukrainians, we expect Cubans, so it’s a dynamic situation,” said Dr. Pennington.

The center says it sees around 160 refugees come to The PLACE each week to benefit from the services offered.

“The first night when I arrived to Amarillo it was very difficult for me, how can we work here, how can we find a job, how can we get our license?” said Ajmal Wlizada, Afghan refugee.

The PLACE answered all those questions for Ajmal.

“Sometimes they’re coming in for help with forms and paperwork, other times they’re using our free WiFi, right now they’re watching the World Cup, maybe they use our free computer lab or they make tea or attend one of our English classes,” said Dr. Pennington.

Not only is The PLACE impacting the lives of refugees, but the community as a whole.

“We’re bringing people who have unique talents and skill sets and we’re able to have them here, so that they’re contributing, they are bringing that into our economy,” said Brady Clark, executive director, Square Mile Community Development.

Clark says often refugees have professional skills that can be used here.

“We have pharmacists, we have doctors, we have soldiers, pilots, all kinds of people that are here with a variety of skill sets, but they need help learning how to apply those and transition them in America,” said Clark.

The PLACE also helps refugees go to school at Amarillo College or West Texas A&M University.

A misconception The PLACE has heard since opening is refugees are not here legally.

“They are, they do have a legal status that they received from our government and so they carry the status, it can be different things for different people, but they carry the status until they are able to become U.S. citizens, which they will be able to do as soon as they’re allowed,” said Emma Rohrs, executive director, We Find In Love.

The PLACE says as they look to the new year they are already starting to outgrow its current space.

“We’re hoping that we’ll have the opportunity to expand, so that we can really meet the needs of our refugee community in just a more robust way, as well as have you know, folks here in Amarillo that are native to have the opportunity to learn to build relationships and really create community here in this PLACE,” said Clark.

The PLACE encourages you to come out and learn about the diverse population in Amarillo.

“One of the special things about this is being able to hear the stories to meet the families and to really have an opportunity to connect with folks from all over the world and to learn from them, to share with them, to create really meaningful and lasting friendships and to really share our experiences together and grow with each other,” said Clark.

If you would like to volunteer, click here.

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