Posted 11:36 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022
UWL community engagement creates local partnerships to service and support the needs of Afghan people
Six months. That is how long it has been since nearly 13,000 Afghan people were first brought to Fort McCoy as part of Operation Allies Welcome.
Six months. That is how long it has been since many of our new Afghan neighbors have seen loved ones in their home country. They don’t know when — or if — they will ever visit Afghanistan again.
Imagine what the transition to life in the U.S. must feel like for the people of Afghanistan who are now resettled in our country. It is that type of compassionate thinking that motivated hundreds of UW-La Crosse faculty, staff, and students to share their expertise, volunteer time, and donate items and resources. As the community engagement coordinator at the university, it was a privilege to help organize the university’s response efforts to help support the needs of our community.
In mid-August, I received a call from a colleague curious about how UWL could help welcome the Afghan refugees that would soon be arriving at Fort McCoy. A small team of staff members quickly put together a survey, which was distributed by Chancellor Joe Gow asking the campus community how they’d like to support our new Afghan neighbors.
“It was important to our university to help provide support and expertise where it was needed,” said Gow. “A large group of area non-profit organizations, including institutions of higher education, were collaborating to provide necessary resources, and UWL wanted to be a part of that call to action.”
Based on responses from the faculty and staff, UWL focused Afghan support efforts in four areas: language needs, community education, volunteering and donations.
- With Viterbo University and Western Technical College, UWL helped provide three virtual and in-person community-focused panel discussions with the intention of helping the community understand refugee resettlement and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.
- A UWL donation drive was organized to collect toys for Afghan children.
- UWL faculty who specialize in woodworking made toys for Afghan children.
- With Great Rivers United Way, Viterbo, Western and the school district of La Crosse, UWL helped collect nearly $8,000 in school supplies for the Afghan children.
- Non-fiction books were donated by UWL Murphy Library to provide college-aged students living at Fort McCoy materials to read.
- The university’s Men’s Track and Field team, along with physical education faculty, hosted six sport camps to keep young children active during the first week of January.
- Thanks in part to a donation from National Geographic Learning, UWL and Western sent hundreds of student workbooks, CDs and DVDs to classrooms on the Army base. The materials were designed to help students learn English to ease their transition into a new country and culture.
Six months. That is how long the La Crosse community, including UWL, has been working to support our new Afghan neighbors as they waited to be resettled into communities across the country.
Six months. That is how long I have been grateful for the partners in the La Crosse community who worked together to serve and welcome our Afghan guests who were once living at Fort McCoy.
Lisa Klein is the UWL Community Engagement coordinator specializing in community partnership building and communication. Learn how to partner with UWL by going to the UWL Community Partners webpage at www.uwlax.edu/community/community_partners/ where you can submit partnership ideas on the UWL Community Idea Exchange.