Though designated by the UN as June 20th each year, World Refugee Day has such significance for Utica that it’s generally celebrated on the closest Saturday to the actual date. Uticans build the day around a swearing in ceremony for new citizens, most of whom are refugees, as they want everyone to be able to celebrate this critical part of the city’s population. Of course the Refugee Center has a big presence at the event. Executive Director Shelly Callahan has stirred the crowd with moving words 2 years running now. It’s a great chance to celebrate Utica’s diversity and, in doing so, to send a positive message to refugees: we’re glad you’ve come. Please stay a while.


Nasradin is an optimist and as such, bought a car before he had his license. Resilient guy that he is, he was not deterred by failing his driver’s test the first time out. We were there for his second attempt, though not allowed to shoot the test itself. When he climbed back in his car where we were waiting, he looked glum. “I didn’t get it,” he admitted. He looked down.


If you asked us to point you towards an event that best represents Utica, we’d probably suggest you spend a day at the Redeemer Cup. Hosted by the Redeemer Church with help from the refugee center, MVRCR, lots of local sponsors, and a whole pile of volunteers, the Cup pits refugee soccer teams against one another in an all out 3-day tournament. Food trucks representing all the great cuisines Utica’s refugees and immigrants brought with them surround the 4 fields of play. Adam and I used to work on a show for MLS (the American soccer league) so we can assure you, the quality of play is good. But as Pastor Paul Schilling, organizer in chief, would rush to tell you, “That’s not really what this is about. It’s about getting the various ethnic groups in Utica together.” Last year’s final featured a Kenyan team against a Karen Burmese team. Despite the number of games each had already played, the competition was fierce. The African team won and then we got to see what the Cup is all about: tired players of all different ethnicities clapping one another on the back: the mutual appreciation that fuels the city. Nice.


We were surprised one day while shooting at the Refugee Center in Utica to find that a company, International Wire Group, had made an appointment to talk to Shelly, Tracy, and Ashley. We were even more surprised when they allowed us to film it. What IWG was seeking was help from MVRCR’s employment staff to identify refugees who might be interested in long term employment. IWG contracted Shana Pugh, a Refugee Center staffer, to conduct trainings with their own personnel to prepare them to interact with and help the company’s new employees succeed. And it's worked. As Linda McKay, IWG’s Human Resources Manager tells us, “The refugees already are on time. They haven’t called in. They don’t leave early. We have a point system, and every one of our refugees has zero points [against].”

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