As they put their best foot forward to learn how America works, the Utah refugee community has a friend they can count on. Gabrielle Ernest of Bountiful, UT, has been working with Kenyan, Somalian, Eritrean, Nepalese and other refugee families as a volunteer since she was just 10 years old, helping America’s newest arrivals with everything from setting up their new households to babysitting their children while they attend school to learn how to become US citizens.
What started out as a weekly volunteer activity involving Gabrielle’s family helping one refugee family has grown, as word spread quickly among the tight-knit refugee community around Salt Lake City that they could get help from Gabrielle if they needed it. “We help refugee families navigate through new experiences, like applying for their driver’s licenses and setting up utilities,” Gabrielle explains. She also teaches English to the families and provides tutoring help for the children in their academic subjects.
Gabrielle raises funds to help refugee families with school supplies, sports activity and education fees for programs that these families may not be able to afford, but are the cornerstones of US culture and community involvement.
Now a graduate school student pursuing her Master’s degree in social work, Gabrielle says that volunteering since she was young has helped set the course for her intended career path. “With support from my mom, our family turned our volunteer work into a formal non-profit organization,” she explains, adding that the change enabled her to attract volunteer help from all over the community. Gabrielle has been running the effort, called Education for Generations, since she was 19.
Through her efforts, Gabrielle Ernest is helping the first generation of refugee children build a solid academic and social foundation that can ensure the a better future for the next generation, as they work to define their place in the Land of Opportunity. “It’s so enjoyable to help others,” she says, adding that she has found “volunteering is a great way to balance out your life.”