Most of us cannot imagine what it would be like to flee our homes, but Jacob Hudson now has a better understanding of the refugee experience. "I am amazed at the resilience of refugees that I have worked with," he said. "When faced with some of the worst things that life can throw at them, they persevere and maintain a positive outlook."
Hudson, BOK Financial® credit training manager in Arkansas, was spurred to action to help the refugee population after watching a documentary a few years ago. He started by sending financial support, but that seemed so far away and didn't feel like enough. After some digging, he discovered an organization that was closer to home—Canopy of Northwest Arkansas.
"Since my initial exposure to the worldwide problem, I've learned a lot more," he said. "I wanted to help in a tangible way."
His volunteerism began in 2019 by providing weekly transportation for a woman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who arrived in Arkansas with her eight children after living in a refugee camp for 11 years. The woman was resettled through Canopy with support from a resettlement team comprised of volunteers.
Hudson now helps organize volunteer teams through his church to find furniture, stock refrigerators, provide basic necessities, help get children enrolled in school, and support these families in understanding how to function through skills like buying groceries in their new location or getting a driver's license.
"Everything is turned upside down for these people coming into our community," he explained. "They are so happy to have a new chance at life, and even if every single thing is different than what they knew before, they are so excited to have the opportunity to start over."
Now, three years later, Hudson and his family have become good friends with the family of nine as they continue to serve through the organization's "Long Welcome" initiative.
"My children have been exposed to stories far beyond my imagination as a young person," he said. "It has been a great experience and really put things into perspective for all of us. When I'm having a bad day, I'm reminded that I didn't have to flee my village in the middle of the night."
Spurring economic development
Canopy of Northwest Arkansas has consistently welcomed Congolese refugees for several years. In addition to supporting new residents and helping them build community with locals, the organization has spurred entrepreneurial pursuits that often serve the local Congolese community and introduced a new culture into the broader Fayetteville community. Canopy programs provide language training, cultural orientation, financial education, job training and assistance with navigating the bureaucracy of starting a business.
"The goal is that within six months of arriving, the families will be self-sufficient," Hudson explained. "There are a lot of systems to navigate, and it's really important to help these families build community. Canopy does a tremendous job of creating those opportunities, and I'm just blessed to be a small part of it."
Learn more about BOK Financial's community involvement in their Community Report.