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Emmy Ritchey ’20 partners with refugee-friendly community center in Utica

By Upstate Institute on August 30, 2018

Written by Emmy Ritchey ’20

This summer, I had the opportunity to work as an intern at the Midtown Utica Community Center (MUCC) through the Upstate Institute Summer Field School. MUCC is a “multicultural and refugee-friendly place that serves all” that provides cultural and educational programming and assistance to the refugee and low-income communities in the city of Utica, New York. MUCC was founded in 2014 after Chris Sunderlin noticed a gap in the services provided to the refugee community of Utica. While many resources are available to help the refugees who call Utica their new home, MUCC gives refugees a place to gather and continue their cultural practices and helps the community connect with other agencies for further assistance.

During my summer at MUCC, I have learned more than I could have imagined about Utica’s refugee community. Before starting this internship, I only knew that Utica had a large refugee population and nothing more. According to the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees, the refugee resettlement agency in Utica and the surrounding area, over 15,000 refugees have been resettled here since 1981. Currently, foreign-born refugees constitute 17.6% of Utica’s population, and 26% of the city speaks a language other than English at home. With a refugee population of this size, a space like MUCC is essential to serve the cultural needs of the different groups settled in Utica.

Aside from the numbers, I also have had the opportunity to experience first-hand how multicultural the city is. I visited a multicultural dress exhibit at Utica’s Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute curated by MUCC’s executive director and board president, observing the dress of the Karen, Bhutanese-Nepali, Bosnian, Somali Bantu, and Sudanese refugees who frequent MUCC and donated to the exhibit. I also had the opportunity to visit two Buddhist temples and learn more about the religion that a significant percentage of Utica’s refugees practice

Because MUCC is a small non-profit that serves a large group of people, my work for them has been quite broad over the summer. I updated their website, assisted in proposal writing for a Community Foundation publication, and created their spring/summer newsletter. The biggest portion of my time was spent helping prepare and run their summer programming. MUCC partnered with Oneida County’s Summer Youth Employment Program to have youth workers from the community come in and work at MUCC while learning about effective leadership skills. I created a database of required documents for the youth workers and supervised a group of eleven high school students as they cleaned the grounds of MUCC. I also maintained a database of prospective campers and counselors for MUCCamp and helped reach out to possible food donors.

After attending Sophomore Connections in January, careers in common good piqued my interest. After hearing about the Upstate Institute at Colgate, I thought a Field School Fellowship would be the perfect way to explore my growing interests in nonprofits while getting to learn more about the region around Colgate. As a creative writing major, I enjoyed working on proposals and am interested in taking the Colgate grant writing course in the future. Overall, my experience as a Field School Fellow has been an excellent introduction to the world of small nonprofits.

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