Strengthening Families. Building Communities. Reducing Poverty.

Of Mountains and Waterfalls

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“Let’s go.”

They wanted to climb the waterfall.

“We only have 40 minutes before we need to head home. How about we just hang out by the stream until we go?”

There was no conversation to be had. In spite of the fact that the Refugee Youth High School Program participants (14 teenagers) and three brave staff had just climbed up and down a 2,000+ foot mountain on a humid summer afternoon, many of the youth were ready for a new challenge.

So they climbed and I climbed slowly behind…up several hundred feet of stairs in just 20 minutes! But it was worth the struggle. By the time “Mr. Patrick” finally reached the observation deck, the kiddos were already happily snapping selfies/group photos and generally enjoying the grandeur of the roaring water pouring over the rocks below. When the Waterfall Expedition finally returned from their sprint up and down the falls, we found the rest of the group relaxing by the stream and enjoying a hard-earned rest.

Everyone was a little exhausted (staff mostly, if we are being honest…) but also content. It was Summer Break and the teenagers got to take a moment to relax from the grind of adjusting to a new life. Not only do they face the every-day stressors of high school, but also stressors unique to refugee and immigrant children. Teenagers are assigned hours-worth of homework, often feel overwhelmed by the prospect of life after graduation, and often do not get enough sleep. Many of our program participants also struggle to navigate American culture, acquire English literacy, assist their parents with adult responsibilities, face financial stress and live in apartment complexes when they first arrive. Many attend schools that are not able to adequately meet the diverse needs of refugee students.

Summer Break 2015 High School Program field trips (i.e., hiking, college tours of Queens University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and an epic field day) allowed the teenagers in our program an opportunity to see North Carolina, engage mentally and physically with the world around them, and to release feelings and emotions in a healthy way. It was a good week.


The Refugee Youth Program has delivered consistent academic and social support to refugee youth (K-12) in the Charlotte area since its inception in 2006. After-school programming is offered at three different sites and includes homework assistance, enrichment and individualized support. Additionally, social and extra-curricular enrichment activities are provided for all children enrolled. Recognizing that adjustment can be more difficult for older children, our High School Program seeks to additionally support refugee teenagers by hosting regular girls’ dinners, boys groups, service projects and field trips. That being said, most of the work is already done by the young men and women that we serve. All we do is provide support along the way.

Catholic Charities staff and volunteers work together to help refugee children thrive and achieve their full potential. You can learn more about our programs at the Refugee Resettlement Office website (  

Contributed by Patrick Costanzo, Refugee Youth Program Assistant Facilitator


Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte © 2014