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Alliance for Refugee Youth Support and Education

Supporting refugee youth in taking their place as leaders within their communities and our world.

ARYSE is a student-centered organization supporting immigrant and refugee youth in becoming engaged, confident, and celebrated. Through out-of-school-time programs emphasizing creativity, ARYSE youth gain the tools they need to thrive. ARYSE is a movement to create an innovative system that supports youth from the day they arrive in the U.S. and throughout the process of actualizing their dreams.



HundrED shortlisted this innovation

HundrED has shortlisted this innovation to one of its innovation collections. The information on this page has been checked by HundrED.






March 2019
Supporting immigrant and refugee youth integration requires intentionality, relationships, advocacy, and compassionate collaboration.

About the innovation

What is ARYSE?

At ARYSE, we know that immigrants and refugees are invaluable assets to our communities. Our students - immigrant and refugee youth living in Allegheny County - are talented, caring, resilient, and with adequate support, will take their place as leaders and change our world. Most of our students have experienced a long and stressful process of migration to the States, and our goal is to ensure that when they get here, they are greeted with the warmth, community, and support they deserve.

Over the course of a 7-year journey, we have deepened and expanded our commitment to being a student-centered organization supporting immigrant and refugee youth in becoming engaged, confident, and celebrated. Through out-of-school-time programming combining creative expression workshops, literacy-rich activities, one-on-one academic support, career and college readiness curriculum, and storytelling for social healing, our students gain the tools they need to take their place as leaders within their communities and our world. Most importantly, ARYSE is a movement to create an innovative, collaborative system that supports immigrant and refugee youth from the day they arrive in the U.S. and throughout the process of actualizing their dreams.

Our flagship program is PRYSE Academy, a summer program for immigrant and refugee youth in middle and high school. PRYSE Academy is how the movement started. In 2013, local refugee youth and college students from the University of Pittsburgh took action when they realized that English learners were not receiving adequate academic or social support as they settled into Pittsburgh. By organizing a summer program, PRYSE Academy, they sought to address real-life factors like poverty, discrimination, and cultural misunderstandings that often stand in the way of immigrant and refugee youth achieving their full potential.

In 2017, I transitioned to full-time Executive Director, and since then, we have established 3 new programs to accommodate the growing and diverse immigrant populations in our region. Our vision is for ARYSE to become an international model for supporting young people as they transition into their new lives. Our team is honored to continue this work in collaboration with our students, especially at a moment when it feels more important than ever to stand with immigrant and refugee communities.

Implementation steps

Listen, Learn, and Research

It is absolutely critical that your first step in actualizing your innovation is listening to the individuals most impacted by the gap or inequity you hope to address. In our case at ARYSE, this included immigrants and refugees, especially youth and community leaders, refugee resettlement agencies, school districts, and local advocates. We quickly learned that, indeed, the education system was isolating English learners. We heard stories illustrating how immigrant and refugee youth experienced social isolation and, especially for those with interrupted formal education prior to arriving in the U.S., their social and academic experience in school felt overwhelming.

We also learned about trends and facts that were crucial in creating our design. For example, we learned about widespread existing barriers to refugee and immigrant youth's participation in out-of-school-time programs, e.g. transportation, enrollment fees, and families’ lack of trust in programming taking place outside of the formal school setting. Understanding these factors helped us in designing our project through an “equity lens,” e.g. developing our budget to include free admission, bus passes, and meals and carving out the time to meet every family prior to the start of our program. We also learned that even immigrant and refugee youth who had advanced English skills found writing to be very difficult. To address this, most of our summer program curriculum incorporates creative writing activities to help youth develop comfort and confidence in the writing process.

Build Your Team

You need a team that is passionate, skilled, energized, and understanding of (or willing to learn about) the root causes of the issue your innovation seeks to address. When we started this work in 2013, it was a grassroots effort to organize our summer program, PRYSE Academy, led by refugee youth who had already graduated from high school and current undergraduate students from the University of Pittsburgh. Now, 7 years later, all of our programs are informed by feedback and ideas from our students, as well as a dedicated team of part-time staff and volunteers who have a passion and/or person connection to this work.

Additionally, we partner with other organizations and individuals in the process. For example, our After School Club is a partnership with JFCS Refugee and Immigrant Services. They recruit and train volunteers who serve as mentors at our program, allowing our staff at ARYSE to invest our time, resources, and capacity into ensuring high-quality activities and programming while the kids are on-site. We also have a direct line of communication with our students’ school teachers, which means that they can reach out to us with suggestions for helping students achieve their academic goals, and we can call on them for materials that align with what they are expected to learn in school.

Design Your Model and Activate Partnerships

Once you have listened, learned, researched, and recruited your allstar team to implement your innovation, you get to dig into the best part: design! Drawing on the information you have gathered, design the model around the needs and goals of the immigrant and refugee populations you aim to serve. It’s also critical to develop this design with sustainability in mind, i.e. how will you (or at least aim to) ensure this program will be available for the community in years to come?

Our partnerships with school districts, resettlements agencies, immigrant-led community based organizations, and arts-based nonprofits in the Pittsburgh region have been essential in the quality, growth, and sustainability of our programs. If you are committed to addressing this gap in your own community, undoubtedly, you will find community partners who are equally passionate but who have lacked the capacity or direction to actualize ideas like yours. By keeping your message focused on the mission, e.g. ensuring immigrant and refugee youth have the support they need to thrive as individuals, other organizations will be drawn and invested in this work for the longhaul.

Reach Out!

Our vision is for ARYSE to become an international model for supporting immigrant and refugee youth as they transition into their new lives. Our team would love to support your vision, share our experiences, mistakes, and best practices, and brainstorm with your team. We also have a lot to learn! So if you have resources to share, we would be grateful to broaden our community of partners.

Check out our website to learn more about us and our journey.

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