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Monday, March 2, 2009

There is really no shortage of media coverage about good people doing extraordinary things. I make a point of watching the last five minutes of the national news every Friday night--any broadcast network will do--because those few minutes of the week highlight the contributions of normal people making a remarkable difference in the world.

CNN devotes a whole year of stories to this concept, culminating in distinguishing honors for a group of ten people every year. Not all are from the U.S., but some are. The reason I mention the geography comes from a bit of frustration I tend to harbor. In the course of the year, the volunteer coordinators in the Colorado Refugee Network attend nonprofit fairs throughout the metro area. When people approach our booth for information about our programs, we are frequently asked the same question: "Do you have volunteer positions overseas?" Or, with a measure of disappointment, "Oh. So, you only help people who are here?"

All three of us are quick to point out that a refugee arriving on American shores has just begun a whole new struggle. There are plenty of ways to contribute to world peace and international relations right in the town where you live. Many people are surprised to find out refugees are here at all. If you aren't aware of their presence, it's because they're often all but invisible...Except to those of us who devote our waking hours to this particular cause.

Even those who are familiar with the refugee resettlement program are often unaware of just how truly grassroots most of the programs are. Our programs cannot exist without community support, church partnerships, devoted teachers, tutors for adults and kids, mentors, first friends, a small army of volunteers, plus all of the people who donate money, furniture, household goods, and time setting up apartments and taking refugees to their many appointments. Refugee resettlement works because it takes a community to welcome a new one to the mix, and communities have a way of knowing what to do.

One of CNN's 2009 Heroes is Carolyn Manning of Phoenix, Arizona. I'll say this for CNN: The network has consistently shown a commitment to telling the story of refugees and the resettlement process. That Ms. Manning was chosen to be honored by CNN this year is one more example of CNN's understanding that this work matters.

Carolyn Manning started an organization called The Welcome to America Project. Her program assists newly arrived refugees by furnishing apartments and providing support and guidance in the time immediately after arrival. To find out more about The Welcome to America Project and Carolyn Manning, click here to visit CNN's Website. This link takes you to an entire web page with videos dedicated to this topic.

Congratulations to Carolyn Manning and her team of volunteers. They do the same work as many other people assisting refugees throughout the U.S., so as a 2009 CNN Hero, Ms. Manning carries the torch for all of you who volunteer your time and open your hearts to refugee newcomers every day--even if it's by donating beads and craft supplies to A Little Something. To the volunteers in refugee resettlment programs around the world, congratulations to you, too, for your fine work! You are all my heroes every day.

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