The Karen Organization of Minnesota (KOM) held its first annual gala at Hamline University in Saint Paul on October 13. “Tonight is really to celebrate the growth of our organisation and all of our success,” said board of directors member Sara Chute. Among other accomplishments, the KOM has been awarded three government grants, developed programs such as preventive health education, English language classes and a youth program, and also met the Charities Review Council standards in April of this year.
The Karen (pronounced Ka-Ren, with an accent on the last syllable) are a people indigenous to the mountainous regions of southern Myanmar (Burma). They have faced political persecution by the country’s military government for many years and, as a result, many Karen today live in refugee camps in Thailand.
The KOM serves about 6,000 refugees from Burma now living in Minnesota. Most Karen live in Saint Paul, Roseville and Maplewood, but there are also several hundred more in Worthington and Albert Lea. “It’s one of the fastest growing refugee populations in the state of Minnesota” says Nicole Donlon, the organization’s board chair. KOM is also one of “very, very few” Karen refugee organizations in the country.
KOM’s mission is “to enhance the quality of life for Karen and other refugees from Burma in Minnesota”. Assistance in getting a job or a house, how to enroll in school or even how to get a driver’s license are among the many services that the KOM offers.
The program of the gala featured a welcome by the director of the co-hosting McVay Youth Partnership, Jane Krentz, and Hamline University’s first Karen students, Dayliar and Zin Zin Htoo, followed by a dinner and a silent auction for benefit of the organization.
“We have grown so much,” said Chute. The KOM was originally founded as a volunteer organization in early 2000, and since its founding as a non-profit organization in 2008, the organization has “gone from zero to be able to hold an event like this” Donlon added.
Chute also noted that the KOM now has “a staff of nearly 20 people and a three-quarter million dollars organizational budget. We’re very proud of that.”
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