Neighborhood Good Samaritan offers refugees a ‘place to belong’ (Full story)

Charlotte Observer

By Crystal O’Gorman
Correspondent
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– CRYSTAL O’GORMAN
Patrice Ognodo, founder of the Neighborhood Good Samaritan Center, said the nonprofit’s Vocational Thrift Center has three purposes: clothing distribution to new and needy refugees, providing retail skills training for refugees and raising funds to support the center’s operational costs.

MORE INFORMATION

  •  LEARN MORE:

    To find out more about the nonprofit Neighborhood Good Samaritan Center and its fundraising campaign, visit ngscenter.org or call 704-605-6723.

     

In 2005, Patrice Ognodo founded the Neighborhood Good Samaritan Center, a nonprofit that provides basic needs, education and vocational training to local refugees and immigrants.

“I opened the Neighborhood Good Samaritan Center to support refugees, because I am one of them,” he said.

Political upheaval and violent governmental opposition in the African country of Togo in the early ’90s forced Ognodo, his wife and children to flee to a refugee camp in Ghana. Ognodo lived at the West African camp from 1992 to 1995.

By 1996, he was granted asylum in the U.S. He lived in the Washington, D.C., area for four years before moving to Charlotte in 2000. His wife and children joined him in Charlotte in 2004.

Upon arrival in the United States, Ognodo said he felt completely lost.

“Even though I spoke British English, I couldn’t understand the American dialect,” he said. “It was also extremely difficult to find services to help me adjust to the American lifestyle, personally and professionally.”

In 2004, while working as a judiciary interpreter, Ognodo said he was persuaded by Pastor John Paul of Congo to create a local nonprofit to support refugees living in Charlotte. Since then, he has helped approximately 2,000 refugees annually.

In October 2013, Ognodo opened NGSC’s Vocational Thrift Center. This involved moving all the programs and services, except immigration and Department of Social Services advocacy, from a small, 1,200-square-foot office space on North Sharon Amity Road to a 5,100-square foot rented storefront at Promenade Susiness Center on Albemarle Road several blocks away.

Ognodo said the nonprofit had outgrown the office and needed a central location where refugees could interact, pay bills, attend ongoing classes and access the Internet, as well as peruse a clothing donation/thrift shopping center.

The primary programs at NGSC are clothing distribution/retail training, computer repair class, sewing class and basic English language tutorial.

“We work to meet their basic needs, help them find jobs and acquire new skills, and prepare refugees for ESL (English as a Second Language) classes. We want them to understand that they can do better, achieve more,” he said.

Ognodo said he spent $30,000 out-of-pocket to purchase computers, furniture, and pay deposits and overhead costs to open the vocational-thrift center. He said monthly bills are about $6,500, and he depends on a 100-percent volunteer staff.

Right now, the nonprofit is not receiving any government funding or grants; it depends solely on private and corporate donations. NGSC launched a $5,000 fundraising campaign in November to support the cost of operating the vocational-thrift center, but the campaign has been unsuccessful so far.

Maura Chavez, Mecklenburg Trial Court Administrator’s Community Support Coordinator, volunteers at the center every Tuesday; she gives professional advice on how the court system works.

“It’s important to have a regular presence in this community. They need time to build trust. It’s been mind-opening, getting to know this community. They truly need our support,” Chavez said.

Ognodo agrees.

“It’s important to me that the refugee community has access to information, can find value in their lives here and have a place to belong,” said Ognodo. “That’s what this center brings to this community: hope.”

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