Courtesy of Memorial Drive Ministries Facebook
The city of Clarkston, east of Atlanta, is one of the most diverse square miles in America. It has a large population of resettled refugees, who are looking for places to plant their roots.
Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Clarkston has served as a space for many community service programs since 2017, when they established Memorial Drive Ministries.
Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church sits on a large property in DeKalb, a county where many people are rebuilding their lives. As of 2018, according to Data usa, 53.5% of Clarkston, GA residents were born outside of the country. Once church leadership realized it’s campus could help in promoting service-oriented nonprofits and congregations for the community, the church shared its space with these groups. As community programs began to use the campus and church membership declined, MDPC gained outside backing to maintain the property for community programs.
Just Bakery is one of many partner organizations that uses Memorial Drive’s campus. The organization employs resettled refugees and pays them a living wage while they go through a training program in food preparation and baking.
“Just Bakery helped me on many things that I couldn’t even imagine, and I feel like they’ve helped build me into a good person,” said Sisto, a baker at Just Bakery who I talked to through the director and because of privacy reasons was not given a last name.
Another partner organization, the Amani Women Center, works primarily with refugee women, enrolling them in its sewing academy to train as seamstresses to make money for their families..
Refugee Family Literacy uses the church facility to teach English to refugee women and also to provide early childhood education and services for their children.
“The neat thing about MDM is that it is facilitating space for all these organizations to fulfill their own missions,” MDM board member Amy Jensen said. “It’s allowing them to share resources with one another.”
By sharing resources, the programs help unify the community.
“MDM becomes a hub for a lot of community services,” said executive director David Roth. “We are able to provide a welcoming space to a lot of different groups that are doing good work and helping to cultivate a diverse community.”
The space allows the refugees to build trust with one another and in the community. They are able to gather together to create and to give back.
The county has been the sight of refugee settlement for quite a while. According to APM Research Lab, Clarkston, Georgia settles around 218 refugees a year. The refugees who are coming into Clarkston need a place to connect with others, and MDM serves as a space to do that.
“There are a lot of organizations that are normally immigrant-led and work to reach people in their heart [native language] languages,“ Roth said. “They are doing so in a way that is culturally sensitive and culturally relevant.”
These new groups need space to grow and to reach more people, a need that MDM aims to specifically address.
“They [MDM] have a really big impact on our community because it really helps people to stand up for themselves and feel comfortable that they can do more for their life,” Sisto said.