The small storefront on South 7th street in South Philly doesn’t look like much on the outside, but inside it’s a different story. The walls are covered in photos, paintings and drawings. The colors are bold and bright. The main room is filled with people socializing, enjoying a mild spring afternoon together. Children are laughing and playing. This is the home of the Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative (PRMHC) – ground zero for a group of resettlement agencies, mental health providers, physicians and arts organizations that are working to link refugees to culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health care. The PRMHC is led by Liberty’s Lutheran Children and Family Service and uses therapy, support groups and arts projects to help families process past exposure to violence and current resettlement stresses. It is a lifeline for refugees who are starting over, after surviving unimaginable trauma in their home countries.
On Friday, May 3rd, dozens of families of Burmese and Bhutanese decent packed the small storefront for a modest but lively celebration. It featured many delicious dishes that are popular in the Burmese and Bhutanese cultures, as well as some classic American foods.
PRMHC staff organized the luncheon to recognize the addition of Liberty’s refugee resettlement team to the location. Refugee clients can now go to this office for orientation and meetings with their case managers.
“It was easier to engage in their own community,” said Victoria Harris, Refugee Resettlement Manager. Until now, she explained, most clients had to travel over an hour by bus to an LCFS office across the city in order to benefit from some of the programs and services.
The PRMHC South Philly office sees some 40 to 50 people every day. Services include mental health support such as art therapy, as well as English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, women’s support groups, parenting classes and life skills management.
“I am blown away by the services available to refugees,” said Kammy Wattanondom, a 23-year old ESL teacher who was first introduced to the program two years ago. Kammy teaches English to refugees in this storefront twice a week.