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How Jubilee Partners Supports Refugees

September 28, 2022

This article is part of a series of posts highlighting education systems around the world. With this article, we hope to raise awareness of both the needs of the students and the challenges of running an English language program for refugees and asylum seekers who've experienced persecution or violence.

We also hope to share heartwarming and inspiring success stories with our community of teachers around the world.

Jubilee Partners was founded in 1979 when three families bought 260 acres of land in rural northeast Georgia.

They hoped to use the land for welcoming refugees.

For the first year, the three families lived in tents while the school and welcome center were being built. The construction finished in 1981, just in time to welcome the first refugee group from Cuba.

“We are a wide network of people around the country who seek to respond compassionately to the realities that refugees and immigrants face,” explained Rachel Bjork, the ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) coordinator and leader of Jubilee Partners's hospitality program.

Since its founding, Jubilee Partners has hosted more than 4,000 refugees and asylum seekers from 38 different countries.

They host up to five families at a time and provide them with housing, English language classes, social services, legal resources, and medical and mental health care. Families typically stay anywhere from two to 12 months.

Two wooden houses with porches surrounded by trees.

Some of Jubilee Partners's housing is pictured here.

“Everyone we receive has experienced some type of persecution or violence,” said Rachel.

Seventeen long-term staff members currently live and work at Jubilee Partners.

At any given time, 5–8 resident volunteers also live and work on-site for three months to a year. Long-term staff are not paid a traditional salary for their work. Instead, long-term staff and volunteers receive food, housing, and a small living allowance. Staff also get additional financial support for medical and travel expenses.

All activities at Jubilee Partners take place in an intergenerational community context. The families, staff, and volunteers eat meals together and if individuals are interested, they can also attend worship services and Bible studies too.

The families that stay there are also invited to contribute their skills, expertise, and experience in whatever way they can. For example, working in the gardens and in the pastures gives residents the chance to share their agricultural knowledge and skills.

“Our 260 acres is a gift and plays a significant part in our work,” said Rachel. “The land offers natural beauty, a sense of safety and space for children to play, and opportunities for therapeutic activities, such as helping out in the garden or working with the animals.”

A garden with flowers, vegetables, and other plants.

Some of Jubilee Partners's gardens are pictured here.

English classes at Jubilee Partners

Refugees and asylum seekers arrive at Jubilee Partners with a wide range of language abilities.

Some people have studied English before in their home countries, other residents are familiar with conversational English but have never received any formal education, and some people aren’t familiar with the English language at all.

After assessing their English language skills, residents are grouped by speaking and listening levels. Both beginner and intermediate-level classes are usually offered. Language learners attend eight language classes per week and each class is about two hours long.

Beginner classes focus on simple conversational English. Students learn how to relay basic information such as their name, phone number, and date of birth.

They also learn the important terminology required when visiting the doctor's office as well as useful vocabulary when shopping for food. More advanced learners have the option of studying for the GED (General Educational Development tests).

“Students need survival English for doctor’s appointments, interacting with the school system, answering questions of legal and social service providers, and participating in everyday life in the United States," said Rachel. "Our job is to adapt to their specific needs and learning styles."

A teacher showing a map to a group of five English language students who are sitting around a table

A group English class is pictured here.

At Jubilee Partners, resident volunteers teach English.

Each volunteer is assigned one class level at a time, and they share the teaching load with at least one other teacher.

Teachers are given one hour of prep time for each scheduled lesson as well as 30 minutes of time after class for journaling.

“Class notebooks are essential for communicating amongst the teacher teams,” said Rachel. “They are kept up to date each day, recording practices and outcomes for each lesson to support continuity. Once a week, all of the ESOL teachers meet with the program coordinator for an hour to share challenges and successes.”

Responding to challenges

One of the biggest challenges volunteer teachers face in the classroom is responding appropriately to the unique needs of students who have recently gone through a stressful situation and are worried about the unknowns of their future.

“Our students have often experienced significant trauma in their lives before arriving at Jubilee, so our main goal is to present ESOL lessons that are engaging and a classroom atmosphere that is compassionate and low-stress,” said Rachel.

A girl is helping a young refugee student with their schoolwork.

A volunteer teacher is pictured helping a student here.

How you can help

Despite the challenges, Jubilee Partners continues to have an incredible impact. Here’s just one touching story that Rachel shared with us:

“Tina* came to Jubilee after four years of labor trafficking under extreme conditions and almost a full year in immigration detention.

After arriving, she began to tend to health and legal issues while also jumping into English classes and trying to establish a sense of peace through a consistent daily routine. In classes, she particularly enjoyed reading interesting true stories and discussing ideas and opinions. She grew in her vocabulary, control over grammar, and ability to express detailed information.

Outside of the classroom, she spent hours exploring the surrounding fields and forests and enjoyed planting and tending to a small potato and cucumber crop.

Tina moved on from Jubilee after having gotten her work authorization, a driver’s license, a car, and a job. There are still many hurdles for Tina in rebuilding her life after her difficult experiences, but she made important strides in her time at Jubilee.”

—Rachel Bjork, ESOL coordinator and director of Jubilee Partners's hospitality program


*Name has been changed to protect privacy

As a nonprofit that receives no government funding or large grants, Jubilee Partners relies on donations from individuals, churches, and other community organizations to provide support to people like Tina.

“The average person can help by volunteering, contributing financially, or providing support to refugee and immigrant populations in their local area. The need is great,” said Rachel.

To volunteer with Jubilee Partners, check out their Resident Volunteer Program.

To help financially, make an online donation.

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