By Lynsey Jeffery
A word of encouragement for refugees and a cupcake for your troubles — that’s what Terps for New Horizons, a student group that helps refugees learn English, offered at its University of Maryland banner signing Tuesday outside McKeldin Library.
Terps for New Horizons is only two weeks old. Every Saturday, they hold weekly workshops for refugee families in the area surrounding the University of Maryland to teach them English and help them assimilate into American culture.
The banner signing is the first step in what the group hopes becomes a large-scale project, which they are deeming “Project Welcome.”
Students outside McKeldin Library were encouraged to write “welcome” messages of to refugees and immigrants on a canvas provided by Terps for New Horizons, and were encouraged to tell their own story or family’s story of coming to the United States.
If a person contributed to the banner, they were offered a complimentary cupcake provided by Red Velvet Cupcakery, a Washington, D.C.-based cupcake shop. Red Velvet donated 68 cupcakes to Terps for New Horizons.
This banner will be one of many from college campuses if the project continues. Terps for New Horizons is currently trying to get other schools across the nation to hold similar canvas-signing events. Eventually, they hope to sew these separate banners together into a large quilt that spells out, “Welcome.”
The finished quilt would hang in an airport as a sign of welcome to newcomers. The group is setting their sights on the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
Students who signed the banner included two refugees from Kosovo.
Mechanical engineering senior Ars-Vita Alamsyah, who lived in Indonesia for most of her life signed it as well, sharing the story of her immigration to the U.S.
Alamsyah said the event “encourages people and immigrants to feel comfortable in the community,” something that was difficult for her in her first few months in the U.S.
For now, Terps for New Horizons is starting small.
The group was created by Lily Sun, a sophomore cell biology and molecular genetics major. It was inspired by New Horizons, a nonprofit created by two Maryland alums to help refugees learn English. Sun decided to continue the work on Maryland’s campus.
The idea behind Project Welcome is to harness positivity that’s already there.
“How easy is it going to be to change minds? Probably very difficult,” Sun said. “But if we can serve as a vehicle for preexisting positivity towards immigrants and refugees, I think that in and of itself can be pretty powerful.”
Sun described the project as “really really not aiming to be political.”
Junior biology major Izzy Wafford reflected the group’s empathic position. “If I were a refugee I’d want somewhere to stay,” she said. “I don’t think I’m more entitled to live here than anyone else is.”
So far, the group has had no serious planning issues. Sun says she expects the worst logistical headaches are yet to come, as the group is aiming to get all of the other schools who may be involved in the future to sign their banners on the same day.
Some of the school’s Terps for New Horizons has reached out to include Yale University, Harvard University, Fordham University and Barnard College.
The idea behind simultaneous campus banner signings is to create a more noticeable impact.
Ideally, Project Welcome will “make people stop for a second and take a step back and say ‘wow that’s a lot of people who support immigrants coming to our country,’” Sun said.