Riya Patel and Brandon Philbrook

Patel and Philbrick’s FRIEND Program Builds Bridges

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Thursday February 14, 2013

South Burlington High School’s Riya Patel and Brandon Philbrick are two of the four founders of Fostering Refugees to Integrate, Explore, Nurture, and Discover (FRIEND, Inc.), a program designed, “to create strong relationships between the refugee youth of Burlington and local American high schoolers to develop cultural understanding.”   FRIEND, which runs March through June 2013, will allow refugee youth in grades K through 8 to engage in art, music, sports, and other activities with the support and friendship of a high school buddy. 
Founded by four high school students— Patel, Philbrick and Patrick Kane and Annika White of Missisquoi Valley Union High School—FRIEND was created with the mindful intent of making the world and their communities a better place.

“My community has given me so many opportunities to learn and grow as a person,” explains Patel.  “I’ll never forget it.  I knew I had to do something to give back, to thank my community.”
The vision of how to give back came to Patel and Patrick Kane this past summer, when both traveled to Serbia and Hungary to take part in the U.S. Department of State Youth Leadership Program with Central Europe (YLPCE). At the same time, Annika White was participating in the Iraqi Young Leadership Exchange Program, while Philbrick hosted YLPCE European visitors to Vermont.  These compelling international experiences offered the four youth leaders a raised awareness of the feelings of cultural tension and isolation that refugees can sometimes experience.

“There are definitely a lot of organizations helping refugee families and doing great work,” says Patel.  “We thought we could do our part by working with people our age and breaking down barriers with children, which might make a difference for their futures as well.”

The four students  applied for nonprofit status, and launched their initiative in October 2012.  The response to the program already has been strong from both teen and youth applicants, as well as local businesses that have stepped up to offer donations and support.

 “You learn a lot from other people’s experiences,” Patel says.  “The people you meet are really meaningful for making you the person you are.  I like to seek out those experiences.  That’s what drives me to get involved and meet people from everywhere.  I’m excited to take that step with FRIEND.”

To become a high school participant or a youth participant in FRIEND, Inc., please visit http://friendvt.weebly.com to download an application.  Questions?  Please write to friendvt@gmail.com.  Seed funding for this program has been provided by the U.S. Department of States Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs via Meridian International Center

SOURCE: Fostering Refugees to Integrate, Explore, Nurture, and Discover