Brotherly love

U.N. to spotlight Philadelphia JCC’s Ukraine refugee program

KleinLife’s Ukrainian Refugee Resettlement Program to be showcased for its art therapy program and support for the mental health of refugee children

When more than 3,000 refugees from war-torn Ukraine resettled in Philadelphia in spring 2022, Andre Krug, the president and CEO of KleinLife, one of Philadelphia’s Jewish community centers, found himself at the center of the crisis. 

“They started coming to us and we decided to do something for them,” Krug recalled to eJewishPhilanthropy. KleinLife quickly welcomed about 60 refugee children into their camp program at no cost. By fall, KleinLife was enrolling hundreds of children into schools and programs to learn English.  

“Along the way I brought in a psychologist who started to work with children on issues of [post-traumatic stress disorder]. Most of the families were coming from eastern Ukraine where all the bombings took place and they were in pretty rough shape when they got here,” he said. Krug recalled witnessing kids hitting the ground every time a plane flew over the community center’s building in Philadelphia. “It wasn’t pretty,” he said.

The psychologist who Krug selected had experience working with Holocaust survivors. “So what happened in the process was that we brought the two groups together and did a couple of projects with the groups together, which was a thoughtful way to approach this. Both groups experienced trauma as kids.”

Impressed by the organization’s ongoing art therapy and support for the mental health of refugee children, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees selected KleinLife’s Ukrainian Refugee Resettlement Program to feature as part of a series of programs around the U.S. helping Ukrainians who were forced to flee their homes following Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

“The UN Refugee Agency uplifts stories of people forced from their homes and stateless people as well as organizations and communities that support them,” Kevin Keen, a UNHCR spokesperson told eJP. “Our office in the United States tells these stories throughout the year,” he continued, noting that the agency visited KleinLife’s summer camp program in June. “These stories, photos and videos will be on our website and social media,” Keen said, explaining that the yearlong online series, which will run on Instagram, TikTok and other platforms, is set to begin in October, although previews have already been posted.

The UNHCR campaign is set to include around a dozen other U.S.-based Ukraine refugee support programs, according to Keen, who said that KleinLife’s program was the only Jewish-affiliated group selected for this project. “We featured KleinLife because it serves as a crucial support system for over 3,000 Ukrainians who have found refuge in northeast Philadelphia,” Keen told eJP. 

KleinLife’s refugee resettlement program was established last year in partnership with the Shapiro Foundation and Jewish Federations of North America. Since February 2022, JFNA has helped resettle 1,792 Ukrainians in 19 Jewish communities across 13 states. Funds supported the resettlement efforts of local Jewish service agencies and Jewish Family Services in these communities, including KleinLife.

“The children and parents spoke to the U.N. when they were here,” Krug said. “It’s been more than a year now so we are kind of streamlining our program. The children have started to speak English because they’ve been in local school for a year so now we can mainstream them. Many of the parents have found jobs with our help,” he continued. 

“Their lives are becoming more normal, which is exactly what we want.”