City of Refuge, executive director of City of Refuge

City of Refuge, executive director of City of Refuge

City of Refuge is the winner of the Progress in Community Nonprofits award. Garrett Pearson, executive director, represents the organization.

City of Refuge is a nonprofit founded in Columbia in 2010, and its goal is to help refugees in the community recover and regain a sense of control over their lives. The organization primarily helps refugees by providing basic needs assistance, professional development programming and counseling.

Although City of Refuge mainly helps refugees for two years after they arrive, it is a support system for all refugees in the area. Over the past few years, the organization even helped a refugee family open a restaurant, Tiger Chef.

Garrett Pearson, executive director of City of Refuge, talked to us about what City of Refuge does for the community.

Why do you think the work City of Refuge does is important?

That word “belonging” I think is most important for all of these refugees. Fifty percent of them are under the age of 18 and have had their homes taken away from them. For most of them, there’s no more home to go to. And there’s a sense of placelessness that many of them are sort of stumbling through trying to find a place. And when they’re placed here — in a brand new city — they don’t speak the language, and they don’t know how to get across town to food or the doctor’s office. It is just as intimidating for them to feel like they can recover and regain control of their lives. And so the work that we do is so important because we build friendships, and we build this sense of belonging in the community.

What is City of Refuge’s greatest contribution to the community?

Providing a place where every refugee can feel like they can belong and they can stand up and contribute to our community and to our city. They do that by creating jobs. They do that by building friendships and building bridges to people from different cultures and different religions and different countries.

What do you want people in Columbia to know about helping refugees?

I think that I would want people to know that one of the most important things you can do for the refugees in our community and across the world is being willing to take a step forward and build a friendship with a person. Far too often when we think about the refugee crisis or immigration crisis or what’s going on globally, it feels too big to feel like you can make a difference or make an impact. But we have individuals here, living breathing people — fathers and mothers and sons and daughters — who feel alone and feel like nobody wants them. And we have tried to build this trust with the refugee community, so that we could bring in people to tell them that it’s not true, that it’s not right and that we’re taking steps forward to remedy that.

What is City of Refuge’s philosophy?

We don’t have to change the whole world, we can just focus on changing one person’s world.

  • I am a Fall 2019 Community Outreach member, and I was previously an Education reporter in Fall 2018. I am a senior studying magazine journalism, and you can reach me at

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