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In August 2020, MCAN awarded $10,000 grants to ten organizations in the ten days leading up to MCAN’s 10th birthday. These 10th Birthday Grants provided $100,000 in funding to community organizations across Michigan whose services aligned with MCAN’s mission of education equity for low-income students, first-generation college-going students, and students of color. As MCAN's 11th birthday approaches, last year's grantees are sharing how the funding has helped them serve their communities, as well as their organizations’ overall successes in the past year.

In this Q&A, Matt Clark from the Refugee Education Center shares how its 10th Birthday Grant helped support the organization’s Graduate & Grow program.


What community (or communities) does your organization serve, and how has the 10th Birthday Grant helped you meet the needs of this community?

The Refugee Education Center serves people of refugee background — from birth countries such as Bhutan, Nepal, Democratic Republic of Congo, and more — from cradle to career in Kent and Ottawa counties, supporting them in their journey to become fully participating members of the West Michigan community. The 10th Birthday Grant specifically supported our Graduate & Grow program, which provides individualized support and guidance for high school-aged students on their way to a traditional high school diploma and prepares them for a successful transition into postsecondary education.

Through college access, MCAN is dedicated to promoting equity in our state. We work to ensure that every student in Michigan has the opportunity to attend college—especially low-income students, first-generation college-going students and students of color. In what ways does MCAN's work align with the mission of your organization?

MCAN's mission to promote equity in college access across the state, to help build successful individuals and local economies, is in perfect alignment with the Refugee Education Center's Graduate & Grow program. Through our program, we serve many students who have immigrated to the United States through the refugee resettlement program in their school-aged years and are struggling to graduate with a traditional high school diploma, let alone progress to college. We walk along with students, guiding them through high school graduation, educating them on the continuing education options and supports, and preparing them for a successful transition into postsecondary education. Many of these students will be the first in their family to pursue a college degree.

What were some of the biggest challenges your organization experienced in the past year?

As has been reported widely, students across the country struggled with an online learning environment. This was also true for many of the students we worked with. Additionally, programs at the Refugee Education Center that typically would have taken place in-person were shifted online, which posed challenges for students who struggled with internet and device access and sometimes were caring for siblings. Distance also posed a challenge for our Refugee Navigators, who are one of our primary methods for identifying and enrolling new students in our Graduate & Grow program. The pandemic made it very difficult for our Refugee Navigators to connect with new families.

What has been your organization's greatest success since receiving the 10th Birthday Grant?

Through our Graduate & Grow program, we teamed up with Lighthouse Academy to support 24 students of refugee background including Didasi (pictured below) in graduating high school this spring. We also guided a number of these students through the process of applying for college. In June, we commenced our first Graduate & Grow Summer program, where our staff and volunteer mentors hosted college visits for 11 students (GVSU tour pictured below), talked about career planning, and walked students through the steps of applying for college.