Most news stories on refugees tend to focus on the ways that they receive help to ease their transitions to new lives.
Very few address the positive contributions made once the refugees settle in.
In late June 2011, Bakry Mohamed, then 22, arrived in Nashville alone after spending two years in Egypt as a refugee from his homeland, the Darfur region of the Republic of the Sudan. (His parents and five brothers still live there.)
In a relatively short period of time, he earned both a general equivalency diploma (GED) and computer service technician certification through a Memphis Job Corps office.
Upon returning home, to Nashville, he hosted a party designed to not only recognize his achievements, but to also offer encouragement to fellow refugees. "If I can do this, you can, too!" he told his guests.
It was important for him to tell them to keep moving forward. "If you can travel as far as you did [to get to Nashville], you can do this" he said of the steps he took to position himself for employment.
Increasingly responsible lodging industry jobs and computer science project work have allowed Bakry to "move on". In doing so, though, he continues to remain a part of Refugee Services, not as a recipient, but as a giver.
"As the Volunteer and Resource Coordinator for Refugee Services," said Aaron Toran, "I have never experienced someone so steadfast in his or her pursuit to volunteer."
Toran added that he frequently received weekly calls from Mohamed "reminding me of his availability and personal need to volunteer."
In recent months, he has helped as a mock interviewer for refugees preparing for job interviews, by guiding work teams at OutSOURCE/ReSOURCE (the agency's light manufacturing and assembly operation providing job training opportunities), and by assisting with perishable food distributions.
He has also volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and is known as a "go to" person when recently arrived refugees might need a ride to a doctor's appointment or the store.
With U.S. citizenship a goal in a few years, Mohamed explained his volunteer drive, "You just help people out as a human being; it doesn't matter where people are from."
Much like Bakry, Catholic Charities Refugee Services Employment coordinator Abdishakur Mohammed (no relation) uses his experience and knowledge to help his clients and the community. For seven years, he has helped refugee clients prepare for and secure employment.
A native of Somalia, he began a two-year term on the Metropolitan Nashville/Davidson County Human Relations Commission in May, after being appointed by Mayor Karl Dean and approved by the Metro Council.
Mohamed explained to The Tennessean in a June 2014 front page story that he is mindful of the assistance he received as a newly arrived refugee. "I want to pay it back," he was quoted as saying.
"After living here for ten years, I am aware of how very diverse and welcoming Nashville is. I wanted to help the people of this city as they helped me when I first arrived."
As the first African refugee on the Metro Human Relations Commission, Mohamed brings the Commission a unique perspective and, through his agency work, a unique expertise.
"His selection to the Commission is a point of pride for friends and family," The Tennessean reported.
This desire to pay it forward is not limited to adults in the refugee community.
A few short years ago, Muna Muday, a Somali Bantu, participated in the Refugee Youth program's afterschool and summer programs, receiving homework help and English language instruction, along with experiencing some of Nashville's treasures such as the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.
Over time, she began to volunteer with an elementary youth program. Two years ago, the summer before her senior year in high school, Muna was a Bank of America Student Leader and represented Nashville at the bank's July 2012 Student Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C.
Now a student at Tennessee State University, Muna continues to give to her community, including to our clients.
She recently brought a group of fellow students to a Refugee Youth mentor program information session, hoping to provide some of today's refugee youth, a group she was a part of just a short time ago, with leadership figures.
Catholic Social Teaching calls us to help those in need; newly arriving refugees are truly in need. Over time, though, like native borns, they become driven to use their talents to make our community a better place to live.
Click here for the entire Catholic Charities of Tennessee Fall 2014 Newsletter.