Bookstore purchases will benefit program for refugees

Proceeds to go toward First Things First

By Roger Li


The International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) First Things First preschool program is reaching out to the residents of La Jolla for help in reaching its goal of $20,000 to continue the program.

With every purchase made at Warwick’s bookstore now through July 31, 20 percent of the total will go to First Things First. Customers need only mention the IRC at checkout to get the donation.

Unlike other preschool programs, First Things First is geared toward refugee clients. The program offers parents who have just relocated to City Heights from as far away as Somalia and Burma an opportunity to learn English, a barrier that normally prevents many refugees from securing jobs and successfully navigating the United States. It is not atypical for refugees to arrive in the country without formal education.

As their preschoolers get settled in a Marshall Elementary School classroom, parents are shuffled into a classroom next door to participate in a free ESL class sponsored by the IRC.

Recently, a busy morning was evident as boisterous youngsters filed into their classroom. Some immediately gravitated toward a bucket of plastic animals, grabbing dinosaurs and sharks to battle their friends and volunteers alike. Others picked up paintbrushes, scrawling on canvases in bursts of creative expression.

Funds raised will allow the program to obtain a childcare license for the preschool, become eligible for childcare stipends from the county, and as a result, ensure its sustainability.

“I learned so much at First Things First. When I came here in 2004, I didn’t know how to read or write in any language. I couldn’t even say ‘Hello’ or ‘Thank you’,” said Halimo Ali, a Somali graduate of the program. “Now I am working full time at a child care center, and I still go to school in the evening. I am proud to be an American citizen.”

Volunteer Ronit Austgen spoke of the program’s impact on its youngest participants. “The First Things First preschool provides a safe, nurturing introduction to both education and American culture, facilitating a smoother transition into area public schools when these children reach kindergarten age,” she said.

Colleen Krause, manager of the IRC Family Education Programs, stressed the need for economic support.

“Working with these refugee families is both an honor and an inspiration,” Krause said. “Obtaining the means to ensure sustainability of First Things First would be a dream come true. Please help our refugee families rebuild their lives and realize long-cherished dreams of education and economic empowerment for years to come.”

For more information on the IRC First Things First Family Learning Center, contact Krause at (619) 641-7510, ext. 242, or email


— Ronit Austgen contributed to this report