RISSE program gives refugees and immigrants a boost


When Nebula rides her bike, she feels a sense of independence. Earlier this year, his family fled Afghanistan and started their new life in Albany.

“In nine months we have a great life here,” Nebula said.

After the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan last summer, she said it was no longer safe to do what she loved. Nebula worked in the media and her older sister Nazari was a lawyer.

But adjusting to their new home was a little easier thanks to RISSE, a center that supports refugees with housing, jobs and educational resources. This is where Nazari takes English lessons and how she received her bike.

What do you want to know

  • RISSE (Emmaus Refugee and Immigrant Support Service) is a community center that helps refugees find housing, employment and resources to advance their education
  • They also offer an after-school program for children and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for adults.
  • The RISSE bicycle program, in collaboration with four churches in the capital region, has donated more than a dozen bicycles to refugees in the community

And although Nazari doesn’t know how to ride it yet, she takes lessons with her younger sister who uses it to get around the neighborhood.

The RISSE bike program is supported by local churches. Volunteers collect donations and fundraise to provide bicycles to refugees and immigrants.

“We are looking for refurbished bikes because new bikes are quite expensive,” said Jonesville United Methodist Church volunteer Patty Blackman.

Over the past year, Blackman has helped donate bikes to more than a dozen refugees from places like Africa and Afghanistan.

“A lot of them are a bit reluctant to use public transport. It’s also expensive. So that gives them a bit more independence,” Blackman said.

The majority of beneficiaries do not have a license, so the bicycle helps them to get to work and to the grocery store.

“Sometimes we include a basket, if they need it for groceries,” Blackman said.

The project calls for a budget of around $300 per bike, but after buying helmets, locks and all the other goodies that go along with it, the cost adds up pretty quickly. But every penny, they say, is worth it.

“It’s not just that person you’re helping, you’re helping their whole family. It gives them a boost,” Blackman said.

And after finding the right fit, Blackman says the best part is delivering the bike to its new owner.

“They are very excited. They have very few possessions; it’s something that’s very valuable to them,” Blackman said.

And what Nebula says she appreciates the most is the opportunity to start pedaling towards her dreams. She hopes to pursue a career in journalism, which was not possible at home.


Comments are closed.