The Friendship Across Cultures program brings together newly-arrived refugee women and retired U.S.-born women.  This pilot project funded by the Barra Foundation is based upon a collaborative working partnership between the Temple University Intergenerational Center and the Lutheran Children and Family Services’ Refugee Mental Health Collaborative. Focused on “baby boomer” civic engagement and networked with organizations working with retired professionals, the Intergenerational Center promotes volunteer service by local retired women with a range of professional backgrounds including  former lawyers, health providers, social workers, educators, nonprofit executives and business consultants.  Recognizing newly-arrived refugee women’s needs for life-skill building to adjust to American society, the project taps the life experiences of older women volunteers to help refugee women build supportive networks, gain a better understanding of American culture, practice communicating in English, and move towards self-sufficiency. 

Volunteers meet weekly with refugee women at community sites in Philadelphia.  The weekly groups include life skills sessions on a range of topics such as American housing, education and health systems, local social services and neighborhood safety.  Community and relationship building among participants are facilitated through cultural celebrations, creative arts and crafts and story-sharing.

This program has been a huge success with all stakeholders including staff, volunteers and refugee participants reporting that the program helped increase refugee women’s sense of security and support.  By showing empathy for the refugee women’s life-struggles and acknowledging their strengths, volunteers believe that they have gained trust from refugee participants.  This sense of trust helped establish the safe environment of the program where women feel more open to interact with others and learn new skills.  One volunteer commented, “I feel I am giving a comfort zone and vice versa… [we] provide a place just for fun and to see other women…it is a break from a routine. …”  A Bhutanese participant reflected, “We had an open friendship with American women, that was so good to us.”  Many refugee participants also commented that they now feel more comfortable interacting with their neighbors and other community members.  The Friendship Across Cultures program combines practical life skills assistance with a supportive and friendly community to provide refugee women with a way to flourish in their new communities.

For more information, contact

Hitomi Yoshida, M.S. Ed.
Research Associate
Friendship Across Cultures: Refugee Women's Project
The Intergenerational Center
Temple University
E-mail: [email protected]