ROGERS -- Harding University students took steps to help Afghani refugees settle in Northwest Arkansas.
President Joe Biden on Aug. 29 directed the Department of Homeland Security to support vulnerable Afghans, including those who worked alongside U.S. personnel in Afghanistan the past two decades, as they safely resettle in the United States, according to the department.
The U.S. ended a 20-year war in Afghanistan on Aug. 31, prompting thousands of Afghan refugees to seek asylum in other nations upon the American military's withdrawal from the country.
"My understanding is that around 80-90% of Afghan asylum-seekers are now at one or more of the U.S. military bases around the country," said Clint Schnekloth, Canopy Northwest Arkansas chairman. "Now, they're going to come to their resettlement locations."
Arkansas has been designated to support 50 incoming Afghan refugees through Canopy Northwest Arkansas and 50 through Catholic Charities in Little Rock, Schnekloth said.
Canopy Northwest Arkansas has a mission to create a community where refugees are welcomed and equipped with all they need to build new lives, according to the nonprofit group's website.
Refugees will begin arriving in Northwest Arkansas this week, Schnekloth said, and will need many basic items to start fresh in the region, he said.
"We have to be ready for 50 Afghani people, perhaps quite quickly," he said.
Harding students and social clubs from the university's Searcy campus worked last week to put together supply kits refugees will need when they begin new lives in Northwest Arkansas, said Katie Clement, Harding's manager of new services. The collected items add up to a value of about $10,000.
As many as 500 students contributed to the kits, said Ethan Brazell, Harding student body president. Supporting the refugees is in keeping with what Harding tries to teach students about serving others, to include people from other countries, he said.
"We're always trying to find ways for our students to get involved on campus and in our community," Brazell said.
Brazell said he thought students would collect enough supplies for up to 40 kits but ended up putting together 125 kits to serve incoming refugees.
"It was very moving," he said.
Students paid for and coordinated the donations on their own, Brazell said.
The kits were collected at the Searcy campus and were moved Monday for storage at the university's Rogers campus, Schnekloth said. The kits will be distributed to refugees through Canopy Northwest Arkansas, he said.
The personal care, adult and child bedding and bathroom kits the students compiled were at the specific recommendation of Canopy, Clement said.
"It's all the stuff that you would need to move into an apartment and kind of be ready to live," Schnekloth said.
Refugees will be provided furnished rental homes stocked with basic supplies and culturally appropriate food and will be connected with sponsors who'll help them adjust to Northwest Arkansas, Schnekloth said.
Finding refugee sponsors is an ongoing need for Canopy and isn't limited to individuals, he said.
"A lot of times co-sponsor teams come from a church or a fraternal organization like Rotary Club," he said.
Harding is a private university with an enrollment of 4,970, Clement said. It has campuses in Searcy, Rogers and Memphis, Tenn.
Information on how to compile a welcome kit for incoming refugees is available at http://www.canopynwa.org/build-a-welcome-kit.
Source: Canopy Northwest Arkansas