Ken High is grateful to have the opportunity to volunteer with Ascentria’s Services for New Americans program (SNA) in Worcester MA. A social studies teacher at Hudson (MA) High School, Ken enjoys getting to know refugees from around the globe and is often reminded of how much we have to be thankful for in America: opportunity, freedom, safety, education and much, much more.
Currently on sabbatical from teaching, Ken is splitting his time volunteering with Ascentria and Minute Man National Park in Concord. Ken found teaching about refugees to be rewarding, but felt limited by not having any first-hand experience and was frustrated at not being able to do anything to directly help these families in need. His sabbatical is giving him a much deeper understanding of this global humanitarian issue and has helped him see how everyday Americans can make a difference.
Since partnering with Ascentria and our Services for New Americans program in September 2015, Ken has been busy developing a cultural orientation curriculum, collecting furniture donations, helping to set up apartments for new refugee families, transporting folks to appointments, and his favorite— delivering donated Christmas gifts to 110 refugee children in Worcester! Ken spent two days along with SNA caseworker Pabitra Neupane sharing the joy of Christmas. Pabitra enjoyed this time with Ken and said, “We had fun singing Christmas songs with the families. All of the children loved their toys and Ken was very helpful. Ken is a very kind person.”
One of Ken’s most poignant memories of the past few months is when he and SNA case manager Bernard Habimana picked up a refugee family at the airport and took them to their new apartment. It was a special night for the family – their first in America! Ken enjoyed spending time with them as they experienced their new home for the first time. The five children along with their mother and father were in many ways just like other families that Ken knows. Ken too is a husband and a father with three young children and, despite language and cultural differences, he felt a warm and comfortable connection with the family. Together, they smiled and laughed while the children learned to take pictures of each other with Ken’s cell phone. Laughter is a universal language we all understand. As Ken and Bernard were preparing to leave the apartment, Ken saw Bernard pat the father on his shoulder and reassuringly tell him “you are safe now.” Ken knew that unlike the family’s past, their future was now filled with great promise and hope.
With spring around the corner, Ken is now working on a new initiative, “Bikes for Refugees.” Understanding that bicycles are an important resource for refugees to build self-sufficiency and independently get to school, work, and appointments, Ken has been busy building relationships in the community with businesses and other non-profits that can help provide bicycles and helmets to refugees. He is also working on developing a bicycle collection and distribution process.
Although Ken will return to teaching in the fall, his passion for supporting refugees and his volunteer service with Ascentria will not end. He is already looking at ways to do more to address refugee issues in his curriculum and will be working with the Hudson High School UNICEF Club and other student volunteers to get them actively involved with supporting the refugee community in Worcester. Imagine the possibilities!
Beth Singley, SNA’s Resource Developer in Worcester is grateful for Ken’s service and all that he has done. Beth recently commented, “Ken is willing to assist with any task, big or small, and always with a smile. With creativity and flair, he has suggested new ideas to enhance the quality of life for our clients. We greatly appreciate his help; Ken has been an invaluable volunteer for our department!”