The Refugee Youth Project has served as a host site for MICA’s Community Art Collaborative (CAC) program for nearly 10 years. The Community Art Collaborative is an AmeriCorps program funded in part by a grant from the Maryland Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Community artist Julia Celebrado-Royer, or “Cheeny”, served with RYP for the 2016-2017 service year. Read about her experience below!

My experience in Refugee Youth Project as a Community Art Collaborative has been eye-opening. I was able to get to know what RYP is about and its impact on the students and families it serves. I’ve enjoyed working with the RYP staff and volunteers but most importantly, with its students. I’ve had the privilege of serving refugee youth who helped challenge my perspective in many ways.

I was able to serve students from Burma, Rwanda, Congo, Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Syria, Nepal and Gabon. It has been amazing watching the students come to RYP excited to learn. RYP truly is a safe haven for them where they can feel comfortable and know that they are welcome. When people would ask me about RYP, I would often speak of the students’ resilience. The reality is, their struggles don’t end once they leave their home country.

Living in a new country and assimilating into a new culture is yet another challenge they must face. Many students are bullied and assaulted in their own neighborhood. During Refugee Youth Project’s (RYP) International Summer Academy, I facilitated a class where our refugee students created postcards to be shared with the students’ neighbors. There were approximately 18-20 students who designed postcards each week. The project incorporated drawing, painting, clay sculptures and writing. These postcards consisted of both handmade and digital copies.

I was able to teach 18-20 elementary and middle school students and was assisted by 6 high school students. During the last week of our program, we went around the students’ communities to introduce ourselves (myself, RYP staff and our students) and gave away the postcards that they made in class.

Walking around the neighborhood, knocking on their neighbors’ doors allowed the students to engage in conversation with the people in their community. We were able to learn that there are people who live in their community who want to get know them and learn about their culture.

Some students even received hugs from their neighbors! At the end of our neighborhood walk, the students spoke about their experience and how they were surprised at how nice and welcoming people were to them. They admitted to being scared at first but soon realized that their neighbors were just as curious as they are about them.

The Refugee Youth Project makes it possible for newly arrived refugee youth to have an immediate community in which they can be a part of. It is an honor to have been able to partner with this organization in serving the refugee community.

The RYP staff wishes Cheeny a fond farewell as she moves to Brooklyn, NY to begin her new position as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Pratt Institute. We are so grateful for everything she did for our students and organization, from leading art classes to organizing a successful art auction to being an amazing role model for the youth.

You can learn more about Cheeny and her art by visiting her website at

To learn more about the Community Art Collaborative, click here.