backpack against wall with books, stuffed animal, and crayons in front of it

PBS Wisconsin Education helps welcome refugee children

October 10, 2022 Tawny Morrison Leave a Comment

Refugees who have recently arrived in Wisconsin receive assistance and support from one of six resettlement agencies in the state:

  • Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay.
  • ECDC Multicultural Community Center.
  • International Institute of Wisconsin.
  • Jewish Social Services of Madison.
  • Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan/Refugee Resettlement.
  • World Relief Fox Valley.

To create a safe and stable life in Wisconsin for refugees, the agencies help adults find employment and housing, access health care, get children enrolled in school and more.

PBS Wisconsin Education wanted to do more to help welcome refugee children in our state. In the spirit of neighborly kindness, PBS Wisconsin Education led efforts with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to provide an extra warm welcome to refugee children in the form of backpacks with educational, enrichment and comfort items.

two men holding Elmo stuffed animal, standing by PBS Wisconsin van

Backpack delivery to Jewish Social Services in Madison.

Over the course of an afternoon, PBS Wisconsin volunteers assembled over 500 backpacks containing books, cuddly plushies, activities and other useful items. Backpacks were delivered to all resettlement agencies, who then started giving them to the children they serve. 

“We’ve been giving backpacks to kids when they arrive their first day, so it’s been a nice welcome gift to them,” said Victoria Pott, International Institute of Wisconsin’s Preferred Communities coordinator and health liaison.

boy wearing a backpack

Young child from Afghanistan wearing his PBS Wisconsin Education backpack. Photo credit: International Institute of Wisconsin.

Tami McLaughlin, office director of World Relief Fox Valley, echoed those thoughts. “Thanks for coordinating this wonderful gift for our youngest newcomers! World Relief Fox Valley welcomed over 300 refugees and Afghan parolees in the 2022 fiscal year. Almost one-third of those arrivals were children under 12 years old. It is ​​a privilege to welcome refugees to the Fox Valley. They are people who are vulnerable when they first arrive because of the many challenges they must overcome to begin their lives over, and yet they possess great strength and resilience that have allowed them to overcome the most horrific circumstances of crisis, trauma and loss.” She also noted, “We have much more in common than differences. They are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, dentists, teachers, laborers, shopkeepers, and they have the same hopes and dreams that we do.” 

Members from the Great Wisconsin Quilt Show agree. During this year’s show, quilters were invited to stop by the Quilt to Give annual community service project and help sew lap-sized quilts that will go into backpacks for recently resettled refugee children. People across the state also donated quilts they had made at home. More than 350 quilts were donated in total and will be added to the next round of backpacks being distributed through Wisconsin’s resettlement agencies.

woman cutting fabric

Quilters volunteering during 2022 The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show Quilt to Give community service project.

“Our communities are made richer by resettlement happening here,” says Becca Schwartz, Jewish Social Services of Madison’s Resettlement director. “They are deserving of our support and they are also resilient – their path here has made sure of that.” 

PBS Wisconsin Education plans to sustain the backpack project long-term as a warm and enriching welcome to Wisconsin’s newest, youngest neighbors.

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