Each year, more than 1,500 refugees from around the world make their new home in the small Metro Atlanta city of Clarkston, Ga., nicknamed the “Ellis Island of the South.” Resettlement is the first big step, but it takes a lot more to go from surviving to thriving in a new country, especially when it feels like your culture, language, and customs are a world away.
Clarkston nonprofit Friends of Refugees provides critical resources and opportunities that support New Americans’ education, employment, health, wellbeing, and sense of belonging—and the need for their resources has only become more urgent in recent years. In 2021, many people fled in the wake of the US exit from Afghanistan, and Metro Atlanta received 1,700 Afghans within about six months.
To help welcome the group of Afghans into the community, Friends of Refugees sought to expand the nonprofit’s space and resources. Friends of Refugees purchased a home that was built in the 1950s and began transforming it into their “Hospitality House,” a place for families to host baby showers, birthdays, graduation parties, reading groups, playdates, and more.
Making this drafty older house into a home for a diverse group of New Americans involved renovations, furniture, and décor that represent a wide variety of cultures, like floor seating and a tea station. And to ensure that the Hospitality House could be operationally sustained for the long haul, Friends of Refugees applied for a GoodUse matching grant from Southface Institute, an Atlanta-based sustainable building nonprofit.
Once the GoodUse grant was awarded, Southface provided technical assistance to improve the kitchen, bathrooms, floors, attic, and crawlspace with insulation, ENERGY STAR doors and windows, and more. At close out, air leakage in the Hospitality House was reduced by 93%—the biggest improvement the GoodUse team had ever seen. Some funds even went toward other Friends of Refugees program spaces, transforming a shed in their Jolly Avenue Garden into a small on-site office with a loft.
The efficiency improvements not only create comfortable, safe environments year-round but also reduce the nonprofit’s utility bills long-term. The savings provide Friends of Refugees with more mission-critical funds to invest in their core services, and the reductions in energy and water use are great for the planet too. After months of hard work, the Hospitality House opened its doors to a community of New Americans excited about the possibilities.
“I’m setting an example for my children to be strong, overcome hardship, stand up for themselves, and care for their community,” said Rahina, a woman who now works with Friends of Refugees and cares for refugee mothers.
Executive Director Kendra Jeffreys said, “We’re deeply grateful for the significant ways Southface has invested in making our program spaces more energy efficient and hospitable for the New Americans we serve. They helped us think bigger and come up with solutions that never would’ve occurred to us. Now, we can provide even better spaces for refugees to flourish in Clarkston!”
Starting over in a new country is an extraordinary challenge that many people will never have to endure, but the sense of security and belonging that Friends of Refugees provides through the Hospitality House goes a long way toward a stable, joyful future. With help from Southface’s GoodUse program, it will be a sustainable boon to the community for years to come.
Stories like these unfold every day because of the dedication of local nonprofits and Southface’s GoodUse program.
Banner photo shot by Wild Grain Photography