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Refugee Development Center partnership helps Lansing newcomers ride & succeed

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Categories: Blog

A mother embracing her smiling daughter's shoulders.Do you remember a time when you felt lost, alone and confused by new surroundings? This is a common experience for newcomers to the United States, including those relocating to the Capital region. Fortunately, CATA and its partners are here to help.

Founded in 2002, Lansing’s nonprofit, the Refugee Development Center, supports mid-Michigan’s refugee population by offering crucial resources that help newcomers adjust to life in their new country. The RDC provides 13 programs, including English classes and driver education, alongside vital connections to resources necessary for thriving in a new community.

“At the RDC, it’s a good community to help you speak English. Your culture is very nice if you understand it. They help you write it and we repeat it for the teacher,” said Esther. “The teachers are all very nice. If you don’t understand something they repeat it and help you. They are very, very good.”

Rosie and her mother, Them, Burmese refugees who arrived in Lansing in 2024, also find the RDC’s classes beneficial.

“I can speak Hindi, but I never spoke English in India, so it’s a new thing for me,” said Rosie. “I take the English classes to improve my English skills. Before, I didn’t know how to speak or say anything in English. Now, day-by-day, I’m improving.”

The benefits of the RDC’s courses are clear, but there remains a challenge for aspiring English speakers: getting to class.

CATA partners with the RDC by providing bus passes for those who regularly use the center’s resources. The RDC even offers a program where instructors visit students' homes to teach them how to use CATA’s bus system to get to school, often their first experience with American public transportation.

When refugees arrive in Lansing, it is typically without a car, bicycle or other mode of transportation. It can be difficult to focus on classes when relying on neighbors or co-workers to get around. CATA services give them the freedom to build a life in this community without constantly worrying about how they will get from point A to point B.

“I’m not driving,” said Esther. “I take a bus to come to the RDC, go to the library or the supermarket because I don’t have a car.”

Mariah Shafer, the outreach director at the RDC, believes the center’s work with CATA is one of its most successful partnerships.

“For many, this is the only way they can get to class any time of year,” said Shafer. “CATA has provided us with a lot of support in terms of getting bus passes.”

CATA connects the community to the RDC and other resources.

“If there is no CATA, we can’t go anywhere because we don't have a car,” said Rosie. “Plus, we don't know how to drive yet. So, if there is no bus, we can’t go to the RDC to take classes or to go to any appointments.”

Hundreds attend classes at the RDC each week with many taking the bus. To better accommodate riders, CATA installed a bus shelter at the bus stop near the RDC to protect students from inclement weather while they wait for transportation.

“We needed a shelter for the students and CATA provided it,” said Shafer. “We needed bus passes for our students using Spec-Tran and CATA provided them. We needed passes for students who are taking one, two, three buses to get here and CATA once again provided.”

CATA not only helps connect these new members of the community to their destinations but also fosters a sense of belonging. Shafer recalled something that Rosie and her mother shared with her about their experience with CATA’s service.

"When they get on the bus, they feel engaged in the community," said Shafer. "They see their neighbors, friends and classmates, and they feel a part of something. After having to leave your home and relocate to a new place, it can be very isolating."

CATA is more than just a bus service; it’s a vital part of the community for many who make Lansing their new home. CATA's partnership with the RDC creates a lifeline for newcomers to the region.

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This content has been published in the 2024 Community Report.  

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