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UW-Eau Claire – Barron County to host World Refugee Day event June 20

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: UW-Eau Claire – Barron County and Immigrant Advocates of Barron County will host an event this month honoring World Refugee Day. The “Building a Welcoming Community” event will begin at 6:30 p.m. June 20 in the Blue Hills Lecture Hall on the campus in Rice Lake.

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire – Barron County and Immigrant Advocates of Barron County will host an event this month honoring World Refugee Day.

The free event will begin at 6:30 p.m. June 20 in the Blue Hills Lecture Hall on the UW-Eau Claire – Barron County campus in Rice Lake.

The “Building a Welcoming Community” event will begin with an open house showcasing the work of organizations that provide services or opportunities designed to improve the quality of life for vulnerable families in Barron County, whether newly arrived or long-time residents.

Then, at 7 p.m., the film “Inside My Heart” will screen. The film follows the struggles and triumphs of refugee families from Syria and Afghanistan. After the screening, event organizers will lead a discussion about the film and its connections to Barron County as a haven for refugee families in the past, and perhaps in the future, as well as the benefits and challenges in welcoming people fleeing from war and persecution.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' designated World Refugee Day event also will include a message from Bojana Zorić Martinez, director of the Bureau of Refugee Programs and Wisconsin state refugee coordinator.

“This event is important to our area because so many of our residents and community has experienced personally or through family the reality of the refugee crises around the world,” says Breann DeVillers, the international student coordinator at UW-Eau Claire – Barron County. “This topic hits very close to home as it isn't something that is happening far away, but something that students on campus, our neighbors, friends and family are experiencing or have experienced.”

Organizers hope to “bring awareness to the realities that past and present refugees have had to overcome,” as well as provide people with resources, support and education, DeVillers says.

The event aims to make community members more aware of the ongoing refugee crisis in the world and how they can help, says Nancy Pike, coordinator of Immigrant Advocates of Barron County, a grassroots nonpartisan group focused on education and connection-building to address issues identified by members of immigrant communities, fostering a positive attitude toward immigration and remembering the immigrant history of many long-established families in the region.

Pike hopes the event also helps people build connections with the resettled refugee community in Barron County.

“The more friendships and connections we can build between longtime Barron County residents and those more recently arrived as refugees, the better off we all will be,” Pike says. “Our former-refugee neighbors — most are now U.S. citizens — bring us increased economic activity and a youthful vitality to balance and help care for our aging population. We who have had the benefit of lifelong stability and resources can share those benefits and make a positive difference for vulnerable families that may be felt for generations.”

Pike says this is the first time Immigrant Advocates has planned a public World Refugee Day event, but organizers hope it’s something that will continue in the future. She also hopes the partnership with UW-Eau Claire – Barron County continues because by working together, the event will reach even more people.

For more information about the June 20 “Building a Welcoming Community” event, contact Breann DeVillers, international student coordinator at UW-Eau Claire – Barron County, at devilleb@uwec.edu or 715-788-6307; Isaak Abdi, a member of Immigrant Advocates of Barron County and a member of the Barron City Council, at 612-806-9923 or isaak166@hotmail.com; or Nancy Pike, coordinator for Immigrant Advocates of Barron County, at nancy@immigrantadvocatesbc.org or 715-205-4992.

More information about the event also is available here.