Fifty volunteers from both Episcopal and Roman Catholic traditions as well as service groups from Canisius College, St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, and Hamburg High school, joined together to offer a “Welcome Table” opportunity at Lafayette High school on March 4, 2017.
The school is home to refugee and immigrant students from all over the world. Every other Saturday morning, between 100 and 120 students go back to school to attend a variety of classes offered through a school and community partnership program. They eat breakfast and then take part in activities that include: cooking, soccer, theater, dance, hispanic studies, swimming, and computer. Before leaving, they eat lunch together.
On this Saturday, principal John Starkey invited volunteers to become part of the morning itinerary with the students. Organized by Deacon Diana Leiker, and Deacons Tom Tripp, Joanne Frake, and Ted Pijacki, the event took place as part of a Diocesan grant called “Welcoming the Stranger”. St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, St. Benedict’s Roman Catholic Church, and Journey’s End, a refugee settlement organization wrote the grant and are involved in it’s implementation. Welcoming the Stranger represents an effort to help the many refugees that enter into the Buffalo area seeking a new life. The “Welcome Table” is an opportunity for English learners to practice speaking the language with everyday people, meet some new friends, and share a meal.
On this particular day, half of the volunteers were under 20 years old. They were able to join the students in their sessions or observe them. Those adults that stayed in the cafeteria and waited for the classes to end, set up tables with an abundance of food to share and an area to play games and meet each other. When the students finished and arrived in the cafeteria, everyone participated in a game that involved asking questions to get to know each other. The students were wonderful as they mingled with the volunteers in a lively exchange, dotted with laughter. Afterwards, everyone was given a 4″x4″ puzzle piece and asked to decorate it as a self portrait. The pieces were put together to create one large puzzle, a symbol that we are all God’s children here together, sharing this place called Buffalo. The puzzle is bordered with red, white, and blue pieces, and should find a home within the school.
Zena Ntiranyibagira, the co-ordinator of community based programs at the school, passed on this message. “Mr. Starkey had students ask him if the volunteers could come back again because it was so much fun.” We are sure the desserts had something to do with their request too. The principal said our openness and acceptance of the students helped alleviate some of the fears these children live with ever day.
If you have a group of teens, or young adults or if your congregation is interested in participating in an event like this, please contact Deacon Diana, firstname.lastname@example.org. If there is enough interest, another Welcome Table at Lafayette High School can be planned for the first weekend in May.