PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After a rapid rise in shootings last year, the city of Portland gave over $4 million in grants to community-based organizations to help prevent gun violence.
One of the recipients, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, also known as IRCO, is helping immigrants from all walks of life find their way in America.
IRCO hosts teen nights and dinners, creating safe places for kids to hang out and play. They also provide mentors for kids who need a positive role model.
“I grew up in the Cully area and you know in the Cully area there is a lot of gun violence,” said IRCO mentor Siyat Mohamed.
As a mentor, Mohamed says he’s on the streets and in the schools connecting with teens, like middle schooler Fatah Mohamed, keeping them engaged in their education and out of trouble.
“It helps very much because my mom can’t help with that because my mom is African, she can’t help with homework. But with IRCO I get the help I need to get on track to play basketball,” Fatah said.
Fatah loves getting to play basketball at IRCO’s open gyms and spending one-on-one time with his mentor, who like him, also grew up in Portland’s Cully Neighborhood.
Mele Kavapalu is also a mentor, serving as a Pacific Islander outreach worker for IRCO.
“It’s just being a presence in the room, telling stories from back at home, the food that we eat, the community that we had back at home,” Kavapalu said.
By visiting the schools in Portland, Kavapalu has built relationships with students like Melelatai Talanoa.
“I go to Franklin High School, I came to the states in 2015. I was born and raised in Tonga, on a small island called Ha’apai,” Talanoa said.
The culture shock was tough to adjust to when she arrived in Portland, but having someone to relate to made all the difference for Talanoa.
“I look up to her as my teacher and my mentor for school. School has been hard, for assignments, but she’s there to help you through it,” Talanoa said about Kavapalu.
By helping their native people, the mentors say they’re helping the greater Portland area as well.
“The life in the islands is different,” Kavapalu said. “It’s a new world over here and so we just try to be that support to these families to navigate here in America.”
Visit https://irco.org/support/donate.html to donate to the organization.