Plaza Voices: 2021 World Refugee Day Backpack Project

By Kalid Al-Rajhi

In honor of World Refugee Day, the library's Cultural Inclusivity Services Department and DPL Youth Services partnered with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), one of Colorado refugee resettlement agencies, to create and distribute backpacks full of school supplies to give to newly resettled refugee families. In addition to these backpacks, we provided "Welcome to the Library" folders in each child's native language. These folders will have flyers and resources about library services and programs.

We delivered 100 backpacks full of school supplies, language specific resource folders, books, masks, headphones, water bottles and assorted DPL swag to newly resettled youth across Denver (50 elementary school, 25 middle school 25 high school backpacks). This means 100 students ready to tackle the Fall semester and many families who won’t be financially burdened by the need to purchase school supplies.

Some of the biggest challenges we faced were making sure we were able to get the items we needed on time and to coordinate pick-up/drop-offs...the boring logistical stuff. Fortunately the constant communication between peers and the responsiveness of donors made things much easier for us! Still, we had to sort out the mountain of items we had and balance out the right parts. One unexpected challenge we faced was making our backpacks + contents ‘cool’. Since most of us are beyond the age of needing to be cool or are already so cool we don’t know how to discern cool from uncool. For example, name brand items (Crayola, bic, etc…) are considered cooler - so we made an effort to order name brand items. We also had custom DPL water bottles made, but decided to only put the logo. As cool as DPL thinks we are (which we are), we didn’t think the youth wanted to be outed as library nerds. Challenges aside, packing the backpacks was a blast! Over the span of two Mondays, we had a chance to hang out and recount all our awkward times in grade school. Heck some of us were newly resettled as well!

This project goes beyond providing material help for our immigrant and refugee neighbors. It’s a way to welcome and connect with a community that sometimes goes unseen. We’re excited to do this again next year!

The Denver Public Library's Cultural Inclusivity department collaborates with Denver's multicultural community to create equitable opportunities for learning, discovery, and connection.

We offer Plazas, an open community space where people from all over the world connect with information and resources, building Denver’s global community. Come to practice English, prepare for citizenship, pursue your goals, and create your future. Whatever you’re doing, we can help!

Written by Plaza Voices on August 19, 2021