Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees

The motto of the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees (MVRCR) is “Many Cultures, One Community” – something the organization really celebrates. The MVRCR takes in about 500 refugees a year in cooperation with state and federal government agencies.

The Mission of the MVRCR…

We promote the well-being of culturally diverse individuals and families within our community by welcoming our new neighbors, refugees and immigrants, and by providing individual and community-centered activities designed to create opportunity and facilitate understanding.

Here are just some of the services that the MVCC offers:

  • Refugee Resettlement
  • Refugee Health and Family
  • Services and Referrals
  • Interpretation and Translation
  • Immigration and Naturalization
  • Cultural Competence Training
  • English as a Second Language
  • Employment
  • Technical Assistance
  • Cultural Consulting
  • Cultural Events

Events include World Refugee Day, International Mile at the Boilermaker, Passport to the World and more.

MVCRC’s 2011 Open House on World Refugee Day was featured by The Couch Utica, a local group documenting community appreciation through film. The Couch was able to interview many refugees who have come through the center on why they love Utica along with local community members who have come from different backgrounds around the world.

Here’s an interview with then-Executive Director Peter Vogelaar about the MVRCR and how the center affects the Utica community and vice versa:

You can find the rest of Refugee Day videos from The Couch by clicking here!

The MVRCR has the most important part of assisting refugees with resettlement and Starting Over in Utica.

Firefly Stories – UNSPOKEN Stories

The Utica Firefly was started in May 2011 by Geoff Storm and Ryan Miller to explore the art of storytelling, focusing on Central New York and culture and themes close to the heart of our community.  A main portion of Firefly is the live event which has been hosted by local coffehouse/venue Tramontane Cafe, although it also includes recording stories of local interest.

The second Firefly event on October 13, 2011 has held in conjunction with the UNSPOKEN Human Rights Festival. The Firefly UNSPOKEN event featured stories of refugees, resettlement, human rights, equal rights, terrible stories, happy stories, and stories that made me want to laugh and cry. One different feature of this particular Firefly were that non-locals participated; filmmakers and participants of the festival shared their stories as well.

Deb Fowler, who teaches ESL classes in Massachusetts, shared the poignant story of her Burmese student Bawi. Bawi wanted nothing more than to attend school in Burma, but because of extremely poor living conditions and the high cost of education, could only attend school sporadically. Then Bawi’s village was overcome with Burmese soldiers and Bawi was threatened and tortured. Bawi escaped to Malaysia where he had to live in desperate conditions and work to survive. Bawi sent most of his money back to cousins in Burma to provide for education so they did not have to struggle as he did. Deb wraps up her story with this anecdote:

Last May, in a small village in Chin State, Burma, there was a graduating class of six. Five of those were Bawi’s cousins.

Bawi was able to start a new life for himself in Malaysia, and now is finally getting the education he desired in America.

This story, along with other UNSPOKEN Firefly stories, can be found on the Utica Firefly Live Events website.

Firefly has created a unique way of sharing stories of Starting Over. I look forward to seeing what stories of resettlement are to be shared throughout the project.

COR Center Resources

The Cultural Orientation Resource (COR) Center provides information and assistance on refugee resettlement in the United States.  Some of the information resources provided includes:

  • Refugee packages – multiple resources to be used to assist with refugees from a specific geographic area. These packages include videos, background historical and cultural information, program overviews of overseas Cultural Orientation (CO) programs, student lesson plans and welcome guidebooks.
  • Videos – Numerous videos featuring interviews with resettled refugees from Bhutan, Burma, and the Darfur region of Sudan, as well as with refugee seniors. Videos include interviews and experiences with resettlement.
  • Map and brief descriptions of overseas CO programs: location, populations, duration and emphasis.

The video section is an especially great resource. The videos show interviews with refugees about their life in the United States. You can see real stories of hope, fear, happiness, loneliness and thanksgiving. Most of the refugees featured are happy with their life in America.

The video Bhutanese Refugees in the United States features one especially enlightening interview with Dilli Ram Khapangay who had been in the US 1 year and nine months. He is grateful for his liberties in America – the ability to eat what he wishes, practice what religion he chooses  and so on.

I had 33 difficulties in Nepal – water, food and so on. Here I’ve found only three difficulties. The rest of them are gone.

Dilli’s story and the many more shared through the COR Center website are great reminders of the hardships refugees face and the what happens after moving to America and Starting Over.

Dilli Ram Khapangay, Refugee from Nepal

Cambodian New Year


Sunday, April 15th was the last of a three day celebration of the Cambodian New Year Celebration. Some of the Starting Over team members went as a way to get the project jump started.

We arrived at the Khmer Buddhist Temple of Utica at 10am to an already packed house, with carloads of families arriving by the minute. Most carried in trays and trays of food. We snapped some photos of the amazing architecture before making our way inside. It was clear that we were outsiders, as if our hesitation didn’t give us away. However, we were greeted with smiles, nods and wishes of Happy New Year.

The celebration started with traditions of donations to the Temple and the monks by the community. Each donation meant cleansing and good karma!

There was a period of prayer time. Then came the feast! The monks ate until they were full, then the remainder was shared among community members who sat in small groups on the floor. We were welcomed into a circle and shared some delicious food. Fresh fruit, traditional noodle dishes, meats and more. We were able to speak with people about their experiences in Utica, many of whom were happy to share their stories.

Paul Yin, for one, really enjoys living in Utica. He’s happy, because Utica is a place he could afford to get his own house to fix up. He looks forward to spending the rest of his life here. He says about the Cambodian community in Utica…

The community is small, but we try to bring more business to the city. I hope the city will grow up… In the future, I hope more people will move into the city

Paul Yin, speaking about his life in Utica

Starting Over’s visit to the Cambodian New Year at the Khmer Buddhist Temple was very inspiring. The community was extremely welcoming and genuinely happy to celebrate with us, their new guests. I look forward to working with the community members more as this project evolves!

Check out a sneak peek of the Cambodian New Year in this video preview from The Utica Firefly