2020 Pryor Legacy Project: Rooting for Refugees

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

With springtime just around the corner and graduation not far behind, the senior Pryor Leadership Fellows have officially selected the organization they will partner with for their legacy project: New Roots for Refugees. 

New Roots itself is not a nonprofit. It is a program within the entities of Catholic Charities of Northern Kansas City and Cultivate KC. The New Roots for Refugees program provides refugees with the resources necessary to build upon strengths and experiences gained as farmers in their home countries and effectively transfer those skills to farming in a midwestern climate. 

The program was started roughly a decade ago as a means of removing the barriers that make it difficult for refugees to start their own businesses once they’ve migrated to the United States. These include financial restraints, illiteracy, language proficiency and networking.

The refugees involved in the program partake in classes which include English as a second language (ESL) courses and other lessons in midwestern farming. The program lasts four years, beginning with the assignment of a quarter acre plot of land at Juniper Gardens and culminating in a graduation. 

New Roots has graduated 21 refugees who still operate farm businesses within the Kansas City area. Three of the graduates began different types of businesses, including the first Burmese restaurant in Kansas City. 

The products grown on these quarter acre plots by New Roots farmers are sold at various farmers markets throughout the Kansas City metro area, through Farm Share, and at several restaurants. For a full list of farmers markets and restaurants with New Roots products, interested parties can visit their website.

The goal of the 2020 Pryor Legacy Project is to help New Roots for Refugees transition from its 7-acre Juniper Gardens Training Farm, a public housing site in Kansas City, to a 50-acre plot of land. The 2020 class will act as a foundational support system while the program prepares the land for use. To ease the financial strain of this transition, the Pryor class has set a $20,000 fundraising goal. 

As a previously established need identified by the current New Roots for Refugees program manager, the new farm will allow the program to not only serve more refugees but to expand the types of farming they are able to do. The Pryor Legacy Project, Rooting for Refugees, will help to implement phase one of a four-year plan with the long-term goals of creating a community center, a certified kitchen, a café and a farm store all located on this site.

Mikaela Papageorgiou, senior nonprofit leadership, communication studies and Applied Critical Thought and Inquiry (ACT-In) major, is the project’s champion. Papageorgiou proposed the collaboration with New Roots for Refugees in December and made it through several rounds of voting before the project was ultimately selected in January. 

Papageorgiou’s introduction to New Roots came early in her college career when a Cultivate KC AmeriCorps member came to speak in her nonprofit class on behalf of the program. She admits that prior to her introduction to and involvement with New Roots the presence and plight of refugees in Kansas City were virtually unknown to her. 

“[I was] just unaware of the populations we have here as well as all of the different organizations that are fighting to help refugees,” Papageorgiou said. “I think when we hear the term refugee sometimes we think that you have to go to places across the world to help. So no I didn’t know really about them.” 

Her knowledge of and passion for the issue has grown exponentially in recent years. Since hearing about the program, Papageorgiou has interned with New Roots and communicated with them while creating her Journey Grant proposal to ensure that any knowledge gained about refugees and organic farming followed her back to Kansas City. 

She explains that refugees are legal, documented residents of the United States who have been forced to migrate due to war, persecution or natural disasters in their home countries. Approximately 500 refugees are resettled in Kansas City each year with roughly 15,500 refugees currently residing in the city. These refugees primarily migrate from Somalia, Sudan, Myanmar and Iraq. 

“I think it’s important to know just how diverse the Kansas City area is and how important it is to get involved with those in the community who have faced such atrocious hardships in their home countries and trying to embrace them as our community members as best as we can,” said Papageorgiou.

There are plenty of opportunities for community involvement in the project both on and off campus. Phi Gamma Delta will be donating a portion of the funds raised at its annual BOTAB event to the 2020 Pryor Legacy Project, and “Rooting for Refugees” shirts will be available for purchase in the Yates-Gill College Union in March. 

On April 1st the Pryor class will be hosting a panel at which audience members will receive more information about New Roots as well as agricultural entrepreneurship opportunities in Kansas City and organic farming standards. Jewell Day of Service will provide opportunities for community members to work with New Roots, and a community build will take place in late March or early April at the new farm site.

More specific details regarding fundraising and events to take place will be available on the Rooting for Refugees Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If Jewell students want to donate or learn more about the project they can talk to any of the students of the 2020 Pryor class.

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