Student Organizations Serve Local Refugees


In response to an increased need in the Chattanooga, Tennessee, community, two student-led organizations at Southern Adventist University have partnered with local non-profits working with refugees.

The Middle Eastern Club, which formed last school year, joined with Adventist Muslim Friendship Association to hold a family fun day for refugee families in the area.

Approximately 25 refugee families from various Middle Eastern countries participated, along with 15 Southern students. The students, who took part in cultural training beforehand, visited with the families and helped facilitate games for the kids. Runnels said she enjoyed listening to the refugees’ stories and learning about their struggles.

“That was the best community service I’ve ever done,” she said. “Those interpersonal connections are key for me. It’s one thing to study about cultures and another thing to talk to people and immerse yourself.”

Southern’s Adventist Peace Fellowship chapter, also a student-run organization, recently began volunteering with Bridge Refugee Services. Isabella Eklund, junior social work major and club president, explains that the students felt impressed to partner with a refugee agency after Taliban militants took over Afghanistan early this semester. 

“After seeing how quickly people’s lives can get uprooted, we decided we wanted to help care for refugees,” Eklund said. “We want to be a welcoming community for them.”

So far, the group has helped Bridge Refugee Services organize storage and conduct a charity drive to collect basic household items for refugee families entering East Tennessee. Both student organizations intend to continue these partnerships into the future.

“Serving those who have been displaced is so important, Eklund said. “We want to maintain our care for the community through this critical work.”