RIYO: Empowering Refugee and Immigrant Youth in Waterloo

June 20th is World Refugee Day, a day to recognize and honor refugees from around the world. Waterloo is home to a growing refugee and immigrant population and we are proud of the work RIYO is doing to empower youth!

Refugee and Immigrant Youth Organization (RIYO) is a grassroots organization founded by refugees with the mission to expand the world of possibilities for refugee and immigrant youth in Waterloo. RIYO is dedicated to providing opportunities for education, self-exploration, and community development while removing barriers and nurturing leadership skills among refugee and immigrant youth and their families. 

RIYO is taking over and building upon work formerly led by the nonprofit EMBARC, which ended its services in Waterloo earlier in 2023. As an emerging organization in Waterloo, RIYO has already made a significant impact in the lives of refugee and immigrant youth, through its range of initiatives that address the unique needs and challenges faced by Waterloo’s growing refugee and immigrant population. RIYO was founded by young women leaders from Burma who are former refugees and students of West High’s ELL (English Language Learners) program. They bring a unique and powerful understanding of the barriers faced as well as the hopes and dreams of the newcomer youth they serve.

During the school year, RIYO partners with Waterloo schools to provide after-school programming at West High to ELL students, creating opportunities for students to build the knowledge and skills necessary for personal growth and future success. This includes academic support, career exploration, and one-on-one coaching for students in their junior and senior years.

This summer, RIYO’s Youth Navigator Program and Summer Kids Club are providing fun opportunities for kids to connect with others and build literacy and leadership skills. The Youth Navigator Program nurtures leadership skills, and service-learning opportunities to help youth develop confidence. They have an opportunity to practice their skills by leading elementary-aged students through educational activities in their Summer Kids Club, a literacy program in partnership with the University of Northern Iowa Literacy Department.

“We are proud of the work RIYO has accomplished in such a short time,” said Joana Lwin, Program Director of RIYO. “RIYO is driven by the passion and resilience of the refugee and immigrant population and together, we are breaking down barriers, expanding possibilities, and creating a brighter future.”

RIYO welcomes the support and collaboration of the local community, organizations, and businesses in their mission of empowering refugee and immigrant youth in Waterloo. If you would like to stay up to date on RIYO’s work in our community, send your contact information to Program Director, Joana Lwin at joana@riyoia.org.

If you would like to donate to RIYO’s mission, you can give online at https://wloocf.fcsuite.com/erp/donate/create/fund?funit_id=2353. The Waterloo Community Foundation is a fiscal sponsor of RIYO.

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