Each week, dozens of refugee kids in the Crafton Heights neighborhood meet at the playground to play games, learn about themselves, and have fun. JFCS Refugee and Immigrant Services started Newcomers Crew as a way to help newer refugee kids adjust to life in the US and have some support outside of school. Joy Givens, who coordinates the program, aims to create lessons that help the kids learn how to get along with each other, explore their own personalities and strengths, and get creative.
Newcomers Crew typically meets on Fridays throughout the summer, with a Zoom meeting in the morning and an afternoon activity outside in the Crafton Heights neighborhood. They also have a weekly Storytime session led by one of the volunteers. Friday mornings usually have about 6-7 kids, while about 15 kids attend the afternoon activity session, bringing along siblings, friends, and neighbor kids. Newcomers Crew works to provide informal, intentionally fun programming that has underlying educational value.
Helping Kids Adjust to Life in the US
One of the primary goals of Newcomers Crew is to help refugee kids adjust to life in the US, including social aspects of life and school. Program coordinator Joy Givens says, “One of our objectives has been to emphasize norms and routines that are common in U.S. schools, like raising hands, taking turns, working toward group goals, following a ‘classroom’ schedule, etc., and it’s been great to see the kids absorb those routines week after week.” Each activity session starts by reviewing the “Crew Code” which reminds the kids to be kind, respect and listen to leaders, keep the space clean, and more.
She also created an incentive for positive interactions like listening well and helping each other. When the kids have a great day, some rice goes into the jar—once the jar is full, the kids get a pizza party!
What’s Your Superpower?
Early on, program coordinator Joy Givens discovered that the kids LOVE superheroes, so each week’s theme explores a different superpower. For the power of “Flight,” the kids played with a giant parachute, working together to make it wave in the air and running back and forth underneath it. Other weeks looked at superpowers like speed, service, teamwork, kindness, and reading!
In addition to the parachute, the students also learned about flight with mini airplanes. Volunteers helped the kids assemble and learn to fly these rubber band planes.
In Joy’s Own Words
Joy Givens shares a little bit about why she loves Newcomers Crew: “First, these kids are incredible. They are resilient, creative, kind, smart, and so fun to spend time with, and it’s an honor to play a small role in helping them settle into their new homes. I get to watch them develop English language, literacy, and social skills week by week, and I love working with our team to come up with new activities and ways to engage everyone. It’s also humbling for me personally as a parent to observe the massive gaps in privilege between my own young sons’ lives and our Crew members’ lived experiences; it says so much about the resilience and love of these children’s families that they are able to adapt and grow so readily. Most of all, I love seeing friendships develop among our Crew members, especially between kids whose families have different countries of origin or speak different languages. Even through screens this past year, our kids have come to see our group as a safe and fun community, and they are building these bridges all on their own.”