The new refugee center is being made possible by the donation of four parcels of land, located near the intersection of East Colfax Avenue and Havana Street, that currently house the St. Matthew Lutheran Church.
According to Amanda Blaurock, executive director of the Village Exchange Center, the property will continue to host St. Matthew's congregation (as well as four other congregations that share the space) for religious services, but the main, 15,000-square-foot building will be stripped of Christian iconography and will become a cultural and resource hub for immigrants and refugees of all faiths and backgrounds.
Blaurock says the goal is to make the Village Exchange Center a “one-stop shop” for Aurora's international community, offering meals, job training, English classes, legal services, cultural performances and large events like film festivals.
Socially conscious architecture firm Radian Inc and OZ Architecture in RiNo will work together to redesign the St. Matthews space to become a full-time refugee center.
“We are proud to partner with the Village Exchange Center to move forward their mission in providing services and safe space for recent refugees,” Tim Reinen, executive director of Radian Inc., wrote in a statement. “As a community, we need to come together and establish welcoming spaces for individuals and families escaping unjust circumstances.”
Blaurock says that the St. Matthews congregation voted unanimously to donate its property to the Village Exchange Center, which formally took ownership of the space in March.
Blaurock has fifteen years of experience in international law, having served as counsel for both the U.S. government and in the private sector. She says that in today's political climate, refugee communities feel fearful. One of her main goals for the Village Exchange Center is to have a team of lawyers knowledgeable in international law on hand to advise immigrants and refugees.
Blaurock says that she also recognizes the need to balance services with safety, especially in the wake of threats and hate crimes perpetrated against other nonprofits that serve Aurora's international community, like Mango House and Project Worthmore, which were targeted with bomb threats on January 26 — the same day that President Trump signed his first refugee ban.
"We are actively taking security concerns into consideration,” says Blaurock. “However I feel very strongly about not living in fear and pushing forward.... And while I'm not going to belittle what's happened in the past, we're all committed to what we're doing and feel that it's the right thing right now." She says the center won't turn anyone away based on their legal status in the U.S.
Next up for the Village Exchange Center is a fundraiser being held on June 20 in partnership with the United Nations Association of Denver, Meet the Middle East and Drive. Details can be found on the flier below: