Refugee Student Mentor Program finishes successful fundraiser

Raga Justin

A month-long campaign through UT’s crowdfunding site HornRaiser proved lucrative for the Refugee Student Mentor Program, which raised $10,056 total, 25 percent more than its original $8,000 goal.

The fundraiser, which ended last week and drew support from 136 individual donors, allows UT volunteers with experience in Middle Eastern languages to mentor refugee children in Austin schools. Program co-coordinator Thomas Leddy-Cecere said he was “absolutely thrilled” by the response.

“And as much as we massively appreciate those donors who gave in large amounts, it’s just as encouraging to see just your average UT student who had $15, so they gave $15,” Leddy-Cecere said.

The mentor program is a partnership that has become more difficult to maintain as many refugee families have begun relocating farther away from central Austin, Leddy-Cecere said.

Jonathan Kaplan, assistant professor in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, who founded the program in 2015, said the money will help with the increasing transportation costs.

“Buses don’t go everywhere,” Kaplan said. “One of our biggest challenges … is coordinating transportation, and these (funds) make the process more fluid.”

Figuring out how to budget for time and money spent on travel has made volunteering much tougher, Leddy-Cecere said.

“Most of our volunteers are approaching this trying to give what they can,” Leddy-Cecere said. “A student only has three or four hours a week to volunteer. It’s pretty tough to ask that student to spend an hour and a half on a bus to get to the school.”

Practical causes like these are easier for donors to contribute to, Leddy-Cecere said.

“I think that often with these sort of major global issues like refugee aid, it’s hard to know where to start,” Leddy-Cecere said. “You may feel moved, but what do you do? You’re not the UN. (This) takes that giant global issue and brings it down to one $15 car ride.”

Elizabeth Tuggle, an art history graduate student who donated, said she agreed with Leddy-Cecere that people often want to help, but need tangible proof of where their money is going.

“I have no connection to the crisis in Syria or any of the political atrocities that are happening to refugees across the country, but I think that, especially for students in university, we’re constantly confronted by images of violence or turmoil that refugees are going through,” Tuggle said. “Having something concrete to donate to is what people want.”