The Lincoln Literacy building is pictured at 745 S. 9th St. on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Following the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan, hundreds of refugees are headed to Nebraska with a local nonprofit asking for volunteers to support one aspect of the resettlement process.

Lincoln Literacy is expecting to interact with the influx of Afghan refugees soon. Although not a resettlement agency itself, Lincoln Literacy’s goal of strengthening the community by teaching English and other literacy skills is adjacent to the resettlement process, according to its mission and history web page.

In 2019, nearly 95% of Nebraskans born in the United States ages 5 and older reported speaking only English, while 10.8% of foreign-born Nebraskans ages 5 and older reported speaking only English, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Apart from being able to communicate with people whose only language might be English, being able to speak, read and write in English is a requirement to become naturalized as a U.S. citizen. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, in its 2021 “Nebraska Language and Limited English Proficiency Report Card,” said English literacy is often essential in benefiting from the Nebraska health care system.

Lincoln Literacy is seeking volunteer tutors, including college students whose schedules can be taken into consideration, to support these efforts. According to the page, tutors are asked to volunteer at least once a week on average. 

“Anybody who is fluent in English, both oral and written, can be a volunteer tutor with us,” Clayton Naff, the executive director for Lincoln Literacy Council, said. “We have a training program, a relatively short online training program, to equip them to be a tutor.”

Lincoln Literacy began in 1972 and became a Limited Liability Company in 1993 in response to large numbers of refugees resettling in Lincoln. With experience and resources, a larger board of directors and more specialized staff, Naff said Lincoln Literacy has grown into a more “rigorously organized” nonprofit over time.

Across the years, the organization’s goal of closing the English literacy gap has never wavered and neither has its reliance on volunteers.

“Our volunteer tutors, I think, feel a great deal of emotional reward knowing that they're able to help in a really personal and really beneficial, lasting way,” Naff said.

Katie Patrick, the executive director of Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska, said CSS is a local nonprofit directly resettling refugees as an affiliate of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Her organization values opportunities for in-person volunteer-to-client interaction.

“That's when we're seeing our volunteer numbers go up and their commitment continue, because they've been able to have that personal connection and establish that personal relationship with our clients,” Patrick said.

While Naff has several unanswered questions, he said Lincoln Literacy is preparing for everything.

Until the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, Saahil Niazi, a junior film studies major and treasurer of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Afghan Student Association, said the situation “was something that I wasn't really paying attention to up until these last few months where things actually started happening.” 

But, as an Afghan, Niazi said “this issue is really important to who I am as a person.”

The ASA, he said, is taking the role of being both an educator and a fundraiser for the Afghan refugee issue, receiving support from the Bosnian American Student Alliance, Middle Eastern and North African Student Association and other groups.

He added that their collective interest in supporting refugees comes from a shared understanding of “the importance of what it is like for immigrants and refugees who are coming to the U.S., or anywhere that they're fleeing from.” 

Niazi said to be open-minded in welcoming refugees to the community.  

“They might be a little hesitant at first, they might be a little distrustful of people at first,” he said. “Being open, kind to them, just as a basic human being, is going to be the most important thing for these people as they're fleeing their country.”