By Lynn Monty, Editor in Chief

Anna Schibli of Charlotte, Natalie Meyer of Hinesburg and Julia Kahn of Charlotte are working diligently to maintain and expand the Refugee Outreach Club that was founded at Champlain Valley Union High School by Meyer. Photo by Lynn Monty.

As a sophomore at Champlain Valley Union High School Natalie Meyer made a bold move. She started a club with a mission close to her heart: a peer-led Refugee Outreach Club. The R.O.C., as it is known, now spans five high schools and Middlebury College. To date there are about 60 members alone at CVU, one of their biggest clubs.

Meyer, 18, of Hinesburg is a 2017 grad headed to Middlebury college soon. Having spent an average of 30 hours a week on R.O.C. this summer, she’s leaving home knowing all of its chapters are in good hands.

Chapter leader Anna Schibli of Charlotte graduated from Rice High School last spring. She worked diligently with Meyer to bring R.O.C. to her school and is helping a new team of leaders to keep up the good work of building multicultural relationships in the Rice community.

“It’s rewarding,” Schibli said. “I went to Zambia and fell in love with it. That’s why I was excited to not only join the club with Natalie but start our own chapter at Rice.”

In 2014, Meyer went to Ghana with Global Leadership Adventures on a service trip and was able to spend nine weeks there this year. “When I came home from Ghana the first time I wanted to get my friends at CVU involved in the international community,” Meyer said. “Originally, I only envisioned this as a high school club, but now it’s so much more. It’s gotten really big really quickly.”

R.O.C. is now a nonprofit umbrella organization designed to maintain quality and standards across all of its chapters and programs. “This fall we expect to be in at least two more high schools as well as UVM and St. Mike’s,” Meyer said.

Club members work closely with the Heritage Learning Program, dedicating time on Saturdays to tutor refugee students at Burlington High School. Meyer and other R.O.C. leaders are developing an International Cultural Exchange Program in Ghana and Vermont, an International Health Program in Ghana, as well as a Refugee Health Program in Vermont.

Right now their operating budget is $5,000, but Meyer just returned from Washington D.C. where she met with Cisco Technology. “We are talking strategy with big donors now, and it’s super cool,” Meyer said.

R.O.C. teamed up with the band Sabouyouma at ArtsRiot in Burlington for its first-ever major fundraising event on Aug. 18. Sabouyouma is led by Ousane Camara from Guinea, West Africa. This Burlington-based band combines traditional West African dance music with contemporary funk and reggae. The Vermont Council on World Affairs helped organize the event where about 250 tickets were sold and more than $8,000 was raised for The R.O.C.

“We are going into our third year, and up until now it has been funded by private donations,” Meyer said. “We haven’t done any campaigns. It would be great to raise a lot of money, but the goal is to raise awareness. We really want everyone to know about our projects and how far we have come.”

Julia Kahn of Charlotte is a junior this fall at CVU. She joined the club after studying the Syrian refugee crisis. “That unit hit home with me,” she said. “Seeing people in such pain just trying to live normal lives was horrifying. Working with refugees has made me more aware of other people and has helped me to put problems in perspective.”

Along with tutoring on Saturdays, Kahn said she also helped organize a free dental day for local refugees and held a school-supplies and winter-clothing drive through R.O.C. “It’s important to be a part of the community, and that’s what joining a club does–it gets you involved,” she said. “It’s about getting to know people you wouldn’t know otherwise. And making sure everyone is taken care of is important.”

Kahn said she is inspired by Meyer. “It’s impressive how driven she is and how much she has been able to accomplish at such a young age,” she said. “Her commitment to R.O.C. is incredible.”

For more information contact Natalie Meyer.