Concordia Students Reflect on Serving with LSG!

Concordia group with LSG staff member Melanie Johnson In early May, 11 students from Concordia University traveled from Portland, Oregon to serve with Lutheran Services of Georgia! Together, the students visited refugee families, assisted with cultural orientation classes, and helped set up an apartment for newly arrived refugees. After their week of service, some of the students shared their reflections on their time with LSG. Here’s what they had to say:

Mari: “Working with these families and children was an eye-opening experience. Despite the hardships these families have faced, and the difficulties they face in the future in adjusting to life in America, they were motivated and thankful for the opportunity to start a new life here. I saw first-hand the difficulties of not knowing a major language, especially when trying to get a job and support one’s family. These experiences have affirmed my interest in serving others and learning more about different groups of people.”

Karissa: “Practicing English with the refugees in their ESL class was great. There was one large realization, though. At Concordia, I live with ESL students, so I get to watch them learn English on a daily basis. We laugh through our struggles, and it’s fine because they are learning in a fun way by choice. These people in Atlanta, however, are learning English because they have to. They are learning because they were forced out of their homes to this foreign place with a new language. It’s not a format in which they can laugh through their struggles, and that is sad to me. This really made me think about how difficult it would be to learn a new language and a completely new life all at once.”

Sarah: “Initially, I saw this Alternative Break Trip as a chance to experience the South while doing volunteer work. What I did not realize is that this trip would allow me to gain valuable life knowledge. At the Clarkston Community Center, I was able to work with children of refugees. I have a huge place in my heart for children. Helping with homework and playing with these young children really helped me realize that as a teacher I cannot control what students will walk into my classroom. The culture, language, and traditions are much different than the American norm. As a teacher, I need to provide an accepting environment for these children. Not only that, but it will be my responsibility to exhibit a tolerance for equality in the classroom.”

Tito: “While in Atlanta, I had an opportunity to understand the lives of several refugee families. Getting to know everything they need to go through to transition into a new life was overwhelming. Much of the work could be overwhelming for the volunteers. It must be even more overwhelming for a refugee that is moving to the United States permanently and has not visited before. Many of these families have been driven from their homes forcefully and are unable to return. It is a tragic experience for these families. Oftentimes they arrive not knowing anyone. This transition is difficult.”

D’Anne: “I learned that I need to be more open to different possibilities and experiences no matter where I am. We are all human. Some people have more experiences and difficulties than others, but that is what allows us to have different stories. Through this experience, I have decided to minor in Spanish so that I can better educate myself and have meaningful conversations with more people than just English-speaking people. This trip allowed me to step outside my comfort zone and talk to unfamiliar people and figure out ways to interact with them. I believe this experience has opened me up and allowed me to be the person I am supposed to be.”

LSG thanks the Concordia students for their passion, enthusiasm, and hard work during their week of service. LSG is also excited that Tito Vasquez, quoted above, is continuing to serve refugees this summer as an intern with LSG’s Refugee and Immigration Services. Click here for more photos from Concordia’s time with LSG.

ASB with LSG

Bowdoin-2014-at-El-Refugio-for-FIH-Visit-1024x768 During March, college students and faculty from Bowdoin College and New York University volunteered with Lutheran Services of Georgia for alternative spring break (ASB) trips. ASB trips give college students the opportunity to explore a specific theme through service and travel.

Twelve Bowdoin College students traveled from Maine to learn more about Georgia’s immigrant and refugee communities. During their week of service, the students tutored children in Clarkston, visited newly arrived refugee families, and assisted with cultural orientation classes. Bowdoin students also became the first ASB group to participate in LSG’s Friends in Hope program, serving families at El Refugio and visiting immigrant detainees at Stewart Detention Center.

Students found the trip eye-opening. One student, Alex Sukles, described his experience at Stewart as “surreal. We’re coming from Maine where there’s a foot of snow on the ground,” he said. “We arrived at Stewart and the sun is shining and there’s a manicured lawn. But there is also barbed wire and people held in cinderblock cells. Something doesn’t match up.” Alex recently returned to Georgia for a summer internship with LSG’s Refugee and Immigration Services department.


Later in the month, fourteen NYU freshmen joined LSG and other community organizations for a week of service exploring the theme of Diversity. This incredibly diverse group of students were all part of NYU’s Comm*Unity, a group which builds community among freshmen commuter students. Students spoke several languages and a few even interpreted during visits with refugee families. Along with serving at LSG, the students helped out at the Clarkston Community Center, MedShare, and Jolly Community Garden. Although this was the fifth year that NYU students came to Atlanta for ASB, it was their first year with LSG.

Students from both groups shared their motivations for service. Bowdoin student Pieter’s mother was a European immigrant from Belgium, so he wanted to learn more about the immigration experience. Sewheat, a Bowdoin student whose parents emigrated from Eritrea, worked with Somali immigrants in her hometown of Seattle and wanted to continue serving immigrant populations in other parts of the country. Myra, an NYU elementary education major, joined the trip to discover ways to promote diversity in her work. She especially enjoyed tutoring refugee children in Clarkston and learning about the unique challenges they face. Kendi, an NYU Psychology major, wanted to expand his knowledge of people and cultures from all over the world.

During their ASB trips, Bowdoin and NYU students learned more about immigrants, refugees, and diversity in Georgia. They also brought incredible passion and enthusiasm to LSG. Clients enjoyed spending time with the students and LSG staff appreciated having extra hands willing to do good work. LSG looks forward to ASB students serving with us in the future.

For more photos from the ASB trips, visit our Facebook page.

ASAP Students Dress Up For Prom!


On March 22, 15 girls from LSG's Afterschool Academic/Arts Program (ASAP) at Clarkston High School found their dream prom dresses during Athena's Warehouse's Clarkston Dress Day! Athena's Warehouse partners with programs like ASAP to educate, inspire, and empower teen girls. In exchange for three hours of community service, Athena's Warehouse gives teenage girls the opportunity to choose a good-quality prom dress for free.

ASAP students served their communities through volunteering at the MLK Lutheran Day of Service, working with Indian Creek Elementary Students, assisting with LSG clerical work, and more. Four students from other Clarkston schools joined the 15 ASAP students for Dress Day. Together, the girls tried on dresses, modeled for each other, and made new friends. Thank you, Athena's Warehouse, for helping us give our girls a very special prom.

To learn more about Athena's Warehouse, click here. To see photos from Dress Day, visit our Facebook page.

Berguissa Prepares for Her Future with ASAP

At Clarkston High School, the final bell rings, but Berguissa Barry’s day at school isn’t over. Each afternoon, she joins other students for ASAP, Lutheran Services of Georgia’s After-School Academic/Arts Program. There, Berguissa prepares for her future: studying to improve her GPA, practicing for the SAT, and writing college scholarship and admissions essays. When she was only five years old, Berguissa fled her home country of Mauritania, West Africa, along with her mother and brother. On October 31, 2004, the family arrived in the U.S. as refugees, joining Berguissa’s father who had left Mauritania 19 years earlier. Berguissa and her family later moved to Clarkston so she could attend Clarkston High School. A talented and passionate student, Berguissa threw herself into her schoolwork and extracurricular activities. She played soccer, explored the culinary arts, volunteered for school fundraisers, and ran track. English is not her second language, but her third language; she also speaks French and Fula, a language native to West Africa.

Currently a high school senior, Berguissa dreams of attending Oglethorpe University, Georgia State University, or Spelman College to study medicine or engineering. Her experience with ASAP has been overwhelmingly positive. She told LSG, “Since I started this program, I gained a lot of experience, learned a lot about my colleges, and they have been helping me with everything that I need. I definitely encourage that they keep this program going because it would help a lot of students and we actually have fun here doing different activities that interest students in an educational way.” Berguissa is grateful to all her teachers and only wishes the program had started earlier. She plans to continue attending ASAP until the end of her time at Clarkston High School. With dedication, persistence, and help from ASAP, Berguissa is working hard to achieve her dreams.

Now in its third year, ASAP is held at three locations throughout Clarkston—Clarkston High School, Indian Creek Elementary School, and the Tobie Grant Manor. At ASAP, professional teachers and volunteers tutor refugee and at-risk students of all ages. The program also provides opportunities for students to participate in artistic activities, such as writing in journals, discussing literature together, and taking music and arts classes. Teachers, parents, and students have all expressed delight at the program’s success in encouraging creativity, creating a safe space during afterschool hours, and helping students perform better in the classroom.

If you’d like to support students like Berguissa, consider purchasing and donating an item from ASAP’s Amazon wishlist. The wishlist includes school supplies, materials for arts and crafts, curriculum resources, snacks, and more. Click here to start bringing restored hope, transformed lives, and healthy tomorrows to refugee and at-risk children in Clarkston!