Thursday, September 23, 2021

Local News

Guilford Teens Plan to Forge Connections, Build Support for Refugees

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Members of the Guilford Teen IRIS Club collect school supplies for refugee and immigrant children on the Guilford Green.

Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier

Members of the Guilford Teen IRIS Club collect school supplies for refugee and immigrant children on the Guilford Green. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)

Though Guilford sits far from many of the war-torn or famine-ravaged regions in the world, it is not far from people who have fled those places. Traveling from Syria, Somalia, Myanmar, and a host of other countries, thousands of refugees served by the New Haven-based non-profit IRIS have settled right here in Connecticut, and for the past two years a handful of Guilford students have made it their mission to help.

The IRIS Club, which includes both Guilford High School (GHS) and middle school students, ran its first fundraiser of the year on Sept. 4, gathering on the green to collect school supplies for IRIS to distribute to refugee children around the state.

Raising more than $400 and gathering a few boxes worth of supplies, the club is dedicated to supporting these families in their often difficult journey to make a new home, and hopes to expand their outreach and membership this year despite the pandemic, says club founder and president Claire Pringle, a senior at GHS.

“So far it’s just been more of, how can we help IRIS—here are some things they need, let’s get that for them,” Pringle said. “Just people who want to get involved in the community, teens who want to get involved in the community, teens who are passionate about helping immigrants and refugees.”

The impetus for the club came from Pringle’s experience when she asked her grandparents to donate food to IRIS as a birthday present to her. She said she was drawn to the organization because it explicitly doesn’t consider immigration status when choosing to whom the food goes.

“We drove to IRIS, and everyone there was so nice,” Pringle said. “They were just so excited and so kind about it and so welcoming, and they just showed us all around and it was really awesome and so rewarding.”

Over the last couple years, Pringle shared that passion with classmates and community members, running charity drives for winter clothes with the help of First Congregational Church and Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison, raising money for IRIS’s annual charity run, and running a car wash alongside Palumbo’s Automotive. She said the club has been overwhelmed by the generosity of the community, and singled out Peter Palumbo, who also donated to the club’s most recent drive.

“Going back to how Mr. Palumbo is an awesome man—he’s so generous. I contacted him, he was so kind...told us how to do the car wash, and we just washed some cars [and] drove the money to IRIS,” Pringle said.

With the pandemic and the hybrid learning model in which Guilford schools will be operating for at least a month, Pringle said it is harder to expand the reach of the club or get the word out about IRIS, which supports refugee families all the way from their home countries through finding jobs, health care, and legal assistance.

One new and exciting program that the club is launching this year is a virtual game night that connects Guilford students with the immigrant and refugee teens that IRIS serves, Pringle said, centered around the popular educational/trivia game Kahoot. The first iteration of that event had some technical difficulties, but Pringle said the club isn’t giving up, and hopes to find other ways not to just support IRIS’s mission, but also to learn more from the folks served by the organization.

“Just raising awareness about acceptance and tolerance, and getting to know people who have come across the world,” Pringle said.

Another idea that the club has considered is selling or distributing signs that say “No matter where you’re from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor” in dozens of languages, Pringle said, which could both serve as a fundraiser as well as a way to make Guilford a more welcoming community.

Even in an unpredictable year full of new and uncertain challenges, Pringle said she and her classmates hope to continue to grow the foundation of their club and find more people in the community who want to care for and know their new neighbors.

The IRIS Club is open to all Baldwin, Adams, and GHS students. Those interested in joining or who want more information can email irisguilfordteenclub@gmail.com.


Jesse Williams covers Guilford and Madison for Zip06. Email Jesse at j.williams@shorepublishing.com.

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