Meghan Jo ‘25, Ryan Jo ‘27, and Rachael Lantner ‘25 all recently received Presidential Awards for their incredible work with Forging Opportunities for Refugees in America (FORA). The President's Volunteer Service Award is a civil award to honor dedicated volunteers that offer hours of personal time to help others. All three KO middle school students exceeded 100 hours of volunteer work. Based in Chicago, FORA is a not-for-profit organization made up of professional and volunteer tutors that empower refugees by providing them with the educational resources needed to make a successful transition to the United States. They provide intensive after-school tutoring for recently-arrived K-12 refugee students and ESL services for adults.
Originally the organization focused on in-person tutoring in their Chicago space, but when COVID hit, the organization pivoted and was able to bring their services online as well to help students while they were learning from home. Meghan, Ryan, and Rachael have been volunteering an hour of their time each evening Monday through Friday helping these young refugee girls and boys learn to read, write, and practice their English. It is not easy with their own school workload, but they see the important work they are doing and are passionate about it.
“It has been a great experience," said Ryan Jo. ” It has taught me a lot about refugees and how they live, which is very different from us.” Meghan Jo recently finished tutoring a 12-year-old girl and was enthusiastic about how much she loved working with her. “She was a joy to tutor, a great person. I could tell that she really wanted to learn and was motivated.” She enthused how much she appreciated her own KO teachers, recognizing how difficult it could be to teach online, especially with so many everyday, competing distractions.
Rachel Lantner said when she heard about FORA it seemed like a great experience, and she jumped at the opportunity to get involved. She tutored an 8-year-old girl and helped her with reading, vocabulary, and learning English, which is the student’s second language. She said one of the biggest surprises for her was seeing firsthand how busy her student's homelife was on a daily basis bustling with activity while she was being tutored online. “It has been really interesting to see another family,” said Lantner. “It has been a fun experience and has given me more insight into other people. It must be hard to learn in such an environment, and yet she is still doing a great job.”
They all agreed that their Kingwood Oxford journey in middle school has equipped them academically. They believe they have the public speaking skills necessary to tutor other students successfully. “KO has definitely helped me," said Meghan. “Before I wouldn’t have been able to talk to or teach but now I can easily communicate with those whom I am tutoring.”
FORA empowers refugees by providing them with the educational resources needed to make a successful transition to the United States. In 2019, the organization offered its services to 30 refugee students with a 2-1 student ratio. As news of FORA increased, so did their waitlist. Since the onset of coronavirus and the shift to online learning, the need for the services they provide has grown, and quickly. With the help of volunteers across the country, starting in April of 2020 they were able to increase to 60 students who one-on-one online tutoring each weekday. Since the start of the pandemic, they have grown to provide 2,600 hours of virtual tutoring each month.
Having been a part of it from very early on, Meghan, Ryan, and Rachael have seen the growth firsthand. “It has been great to see how much the organization has grown since I started and seeing how more people have gotten involved,” said Lantner. “I am really looking forward to continuing working with these students.”