Finding Healing in the Ellis Island of the South

This post is part of a volunteer time off series, which gives employees a chance to reflect on their trips, ask critical questions, and share what they've been learning. To learn more about our VTO program, check out David Fouse's post.

As you stroll down the street of a small town in Georgia, you smell curry coming out of a window, you hear the call to prayer from a nearby mosque, men and women in traditional robes pass you by. Signs in different languages hangover shops selling exotic products. You overhear native tongues and accented English spoken at every turn. Grocery stores greet you like a bazaar thronged with people of all races, ethnicities, and cultures. Your senses are overwhelmed by the sight and smell of tropical fruits and pungent spices from far off lands. You realize you don’t need to travel the world to experience different cultures. The world has come to America.

This is the city of Clarkston, often known as the most diverse square mile in the United States or “the Ellis Island of the South.” The small city of Clarkston has received over 40,000 refugees over the past 25 years. Over 40 nations are represented in 1.2 square miles with over 60 languages, that's a new language every 100 sq ft!

Having worked with Rohingya refugees in Malaysia and working with clients such as World Relief at Pinkston, I knew that when I moved to Atlanta, I would want to get involved in this community right away! Shortly before the pandemic began, I started volunteering with an organization called “Peace of Thread,” a non-profit organization that empowers women who have come to the United States seeking refuge from war, persecution, and poverty to make a new life for themselves and their families. The women of “Peace of Thread” hand-make high quality, one-of-a-kind handbags and accessories using top-of-the-line, recycled fabrics.

Due to the pandemic, “Peace of Thread,” like many organizations, had to think of new ways to sell their accessories, and bring awareness of the community’s needs. “Peace of Thread” quickly pivoted and began to create masks and host virtual cooking classes for the women to show their cultures from the comfort of their own kitchen. The audience was able to safely share new culinary delights and learn about the lives of these refugee women. I had the privilege of helping with these virtual fundraisers and getting to know the women.

COVID-19 has made it difficult for many people to volunteer in person and get involved in the way they used to. However, through this time, I have learned that there is so much we can do in our community to help those in need and sometimes it means equipping ourselves so that we can best serve others. This is why last week during my Volunteer Time Off, I took a trauma healing course offered by the American Bible Society, one of the clients that Pinkston serves.

In today’s turbulent world, many people have had to flee war, ethnic conflict, floods, car accidents, domestic abuse, or crime. Many of them have been wounded inside by these experiences. Through this course, I learned about what trauma is and how to effectively help people to heal. I learned about the grieving process and how important it is for people to grieve in order to find healing. In American culture, we often try to skip the grieving process or speed it up but it is absolutely critical for people to find hope and healing by processing their trauma. I learned about how to listen empathetically and address the needs of someone who has experienced a great deal of trauma. We discussed the healing power of faith and forgiveness. Through traumatic experiences, people are often faced with many difficult questions about the world, God, and the people around them. This course taught me how to help someone wrestle with these questions and eventually find healing, hope and peace.

After this five-day course, I have been certified to now co-facilitate healing groups. I will soon be mentoring some of the women at “Peace of Thread,” applying the lessons I have learned in this course to help these women process the pain they have experienced. Many of the women at “Peace of Thread” come from war-torn countries and have experienced a great deal of loss, abuse, conflict, and displacement. My hope is that they not only have a fresh start in the United States but that they can find healing here and be able to process their past pain and find freedom from it.

The trauma healing course, started by the American Bible Society, is currently implemented in over 100 countries and is changing thousands of lives every day. I am proud to work at Pinkston, whose clients are changing the world and making it a better place. I am grateful for this opportunity and hope to play even a small role in helping to bring peace and healing to hurting people through the skills that I have learned through this course.

Desiree Lueckhof is an Account Executive at Pinkston.