Refugee students treated to back-to-school shopping spree

Esther looks for clothes to be ready for the back to school as part of the event organized by Catholic Charities Aug. 3. (MARJORIE DURANTE | FC)

WINTER PARK | They journeyed halfway across the world in search of a better life. Now that these refugee teenagers are safe in Central Florida, local angels made it their mission to make sure they’re ready for school.

Catholic Charities of Central Florida (CCCF) recently teamed up with the non-profit organization “From Outside In” so a dozen young people could pick out fresh clothes, shoes and accessories for the new school year. Esther and a handful of other teenagers just arrived from the Congo. They cruised the aisles of the Winter Park boutique, August 3, with huge smiles on their faces. Much like her peers, Esther loves fashion. She grabbed a couple pairs of jeans, but loves dresses most. “It’s something new, something good,” she said. “I really enjoyed this day.”

Sehada Aganovic, youth case manager for CCCF, personally drove all over Central Florida rounding up students ages 16 to 19 years old to chauffeur them to this event. “I’m amazed how beautiful this is,” she exclaimed. “What a great opportunity for our refugees! Some of them didn’t even know their sizes, so this is their first experience shopping in the United States.”

Krizia Capeles founded “From Outside In” four years ago while working with children in the foster care system. “What I witnessed was youth going through garbage bags of clothes in our offices,” she said. “I wanted to start something fun, uplifting and a dignified shopping experience for youth in need.” The entire operation is run by volunteers and the community contributes all of the new or gently-used clothes to be given away for free.

Capeles has many connections with Florida Hospital, UCF, Seminole State College, and more. An intern recently told her about the good works Catholic Charities does with refugees and Capeles immediately decided to call. “In the times that we’re living in now there’s so much bad stigma, we want to show them that we love them- that our community loves them being here. We want them to feel inspired here. We want them to grow and to do great things.”

Aganovic is also thankful for this new partnership. Two case managers are currently working with 50 refugee students right now, making sure they succeed. In addition to shopping for new clothing, they also take the teens to school to review their new schedules, transfer grades, and meet new friends and teachers.

By Jennifer Drow, special to the Florida Catholic – August 4, 2018