In an Uneasy Time for Refugees, a Nonprofit's Festival Builds Community

Some of Project Worthmore's refugee clients who farm at the DeLaney Community Farm in Aurora.
Some of Project Worthmore's refugee clients who farm at the DeLaney Community Farm in Aurora. DeLaney Community Farm Facebook Page
A weekend festival with a 5K, a one-mile fun run, team relay races, a yoga class instructed through wireless headphones, kids' activities, food from City, O' City and beer from Great Divide — all of it taking place on a community farm — already hits enough Colorado stereotypes to make it appealing to Denverites.

But those offerings aren't the true draw of the Dignity Festival, coming up on June 16 at the DeLaney Community Farm in Aurora; rather, the festival is being held in honor of World Refugee Day and will help raise money for Project Worthmore, a nonprofit based in Aurora that assists Colorado's substantial refugee community by providing such services as English-language classes, a dental clinic and access to community farming.

It's a particularly critical time for the nonprofit, founded in 2011 by Frank and Carolyn Anello, as an administration in Washington, D.C., continues to restrict federal funding for refugee resettlement and assistance. Currently, the feds provide financial assistance to newly arrived refugees for only three months, and the Trump Administration is gutting resettlement agencies by drastically reducing the number of refugees admitted into the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, the Obama Administration admitted 84,995 refugees during 2016, his last year in office. In 2018, the Trump Administration is expected to admit a quarter of that.

Despite the reduced numbers of new arrivals, demand for assistance among refugees isn't going down. Colorado already has a sizable population of refugees resettled here: approximately 60,000 arrivals since 1980, with large communities from Vietnam, Burma, Somalia, Bhutan, Iraq, Ethiopia, Cambodia and Laos.

Project Worthmore Facebook page
According to Susie Lewis, marketing and events director for Project Worthmore, the nonprofit is facing an increasing need in the community. "Our programs have continued to grow despite resettlement numbers having a downward trend,” she says. “And that's partially because of reduced funding for the three resettlement agencies in the state, which impacts their ability to provide direct services. And with all the realities of Denver's housing market right now, it just throws in this whole other layer of complexity on that."

While the Dignity Festival is meant to show off the work and new offerings by Project Worthmore, including a converted Pinzgauer military truck that the nonprofit will use to sell produce from the DeLaney farm in front of Stanley Marketplace this upcoming harvest season, Lewis says the real focus of the event is to build relationships and awareness.

"Coloradans are great about really wanting to help,” she says. “But at the same time, I think a lot of people don't even know we have a significant refugee community here, because it's physically removed from where others work and eat and play. So part of the goal is to show people there is a community here, there is a need, there is a way to support refugees in a direct way amidst a global crisis that feels so big that you might say, 'Oh, my gosh, I don't know what to do about that.' Part of what we're trying to do at Project Worthmore is to say, 'There's something right here, very easy, that you can do to improve the lives of refugees within your own community.'"

That's especially important, she adds, during a time when our country doesn't feel so welcoming.

"There's this general sense of fear and not being welcome among refugees,” she says. “So this is making sure the community here knows they're welcomed. And my call to Denver is: Let's think about our power to act locally."

The third annual Dignity Fest takes place at the DeLaney Community Farm on June 16 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Today, May 16, is the last day for pre-sale tickets, $25 for adults and $10 for kids. After May 16, tickets are $35 for adults, $10 for kids. More information about the festival can be found on its Facebook event page.
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker