African Youth and Community Organization
The African Youth and Community Organization (AYCO), a 501(c)(3) organization, was formed in early 2010 to address the lack of services and programs for African immigrant and refugee families. Schools are inadequately equipped to deal with African refugee youth; parents lack the necessary language skills for effective communication with the schools and other community organizations; and existing organizations too often under-serve or cut loose families, leaving them ill-prepared for interactions with the larger community.
Young African immigrants and refugees are particularly vulnerable. After years in refugee camps many are not able to keep up academically, and many youth drop out or face expulsion from their schools. AYCO’s primary goal is to encourage immigrant and refugee youth towards higher education, positive activities, and active engagement in their community.
The First Step: Youth Services
A strong community depends on the active engagement of its members. AYCO focuses on empowering the young members of the community to become tomorrow’s leaders. AYCO’s volunteers also come from the community, providing the opportunity for adults to also become actively involved. Further, AYCO’s volunteers serve as role models and examples of success for the younger generation – providing a bridge to Portland’s wider community.
AYCO, in partnership with the Portland Police Bureau and local businesses, is developing the following programs for Youth Advocacy and Outreach:
- Sports Program: Participation in athletics is the cornerstone for many confident and engaged youth. AYCO will provide training, coaching, and equipment for immigrant and refugee children, many of whom of had little or no exposure to American sports. The sports program will have numerous benefits: it will provide structure and positive activity that will keep students away from drugs, alcohol, crime and violence; it will build individual confidence while emphasizing cooperation in a team environment; it will give students the necessary skills and abilities to participate in activities with all local youth; and it will build trust between students, parents, the community, and the organization.
- After School Program: Many immigrant and refugee children struggle with the demands of American schools: the new environment, language, and social scene often present barriers that students see as insurmountable. AYCO will work with these students who are now falling through the cracks by providing academic tutoring, language instruction, and advice on cultural integration. AYCO’s goal here is instill the value of a good education while empowering students to become active participants in their own schooling.
- Community Involvement Program: AYCO’s goals include cultivating leaders and active participants within the immigrant and refugee community who will act as bridges to the wider community of the Portland area. In pursuit of this goal AYCO heavily emphasizes the importance of volunteer work, and youth participants will be encouraged to become volunteers themselves. Whether by working on cultural orientation or language skills with other members of the community, or volunteering at other community organizations in the Portland area, youth participants in AYCO activities will be encouraged to give back to the communities around them.
AYCO is firmly committed to providing local immigrant and refugee youth the skills and confidence necessary to be active members of their communities, and to cultivating tomorrow’s leaders.
Step Two: Building on the Foundation
The Youth Services Programs are the foundation of AYCO’s mission, but not its end point. Building on the trust and bonds established through the Youth Programs, AYCO is developing programs for full immigrant and refugee family services. Young people brought up in the program will become volunteers and advocates for the Family Program along with other members of the Portland community.
The Family Program will provide comprehensive services for recent immigrant and refugee arrivals, spanning the following areas:
- Refugee Resettlement Services
- Translation and Interpretation Services
- Cultural and Behavioral Orientation and Integration
- Job Training and Employment Referral
- Housing Assistance
- Basic Finance and Administrative Training
- Drug and tobacco Prevention
- Senior Programs
- Advocacy and Support
- Education and Nutrition
- Crime Prevention
- Parenting Education
- Affordable Legal Services
AYCO was born out of the needs of African immigrants and refugees and the failure of existing organizations to meet these needs. AYCO is focused on strengthening the community from within while speeding and encouraging integration into the wider community in the Portland area. AYCO is committed to helping individuals, young and old, become true citizens in their new country, active participants in the communities around them, and leaders in society.