Jisung Lee, 18, of Logan, Utah, a senior at Logan High School, formed an organization that is helping teen refugees in Utah feel welcomed, adjust to their new surroundings, excel in the classroom, and learn about educational opportunities beyond high school. While attending middle school in France, Jisung encountered many classmates from northern Africa, who helped her appreciate the value of cultural diversity and the importance of acceptance and kindness. But when she moved to a rural town in Utah, she found that there was very little diversity, and that most of the teen refugees there were seen as outsiders. “Knowing these students’ potential, I wanted to give back the kindness I had received in France,” said Jisung, “and empower them to pursue their dreams.”
So in mid-2019, Jisung launched a youth organization called UTREAT (for “Utah Teen Refugee Education and Tutoring”) to “lessen the educational disparities that youth refugees face in their lives.” To get help, she reached out to local refugee organizations and recruited students and adults from several communities. Then she built a website and began organizing monthly book drives and weekly tutoring sessions for teen refugees. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Jisung has been delivering books in sanitized bags to more than 20 refugee households, creating tutoring videos on core subjects for every grade level, and working on a blog to help teen refugees understand the college application process and scholarship opportunities. Jisung’s organization now has chapters in three towns, and is working with 20 high school students, 15 adult volunteers and more than 10 educational programs and nonprofit organizations to accomplish its mission.