GREENSBORO, N.C. — The American Hebrew Academy will start housing immigrant children at the boarding school campus in July, the Board of Directors announced Friday.
The new leasing deal will give the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration for Children and Families’ (ACF) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) the campus for use as a transitional space.
The Unaccompanied Children program through ORR provides transitional housing for children who have come across the United States border alone. The program then works to place the children with family or provide a "vetted sponsor."
During their time at the Greensboro site, the federal agency will provide schooling, mental and medical services, case management, legal services, and recreational opportunities.
Local leaders first discussed the idea with the federal government back in May of 2021, but a decision was not announced until just now.
"It is important to remember we are talking about a transition site for children. The facility is not a permanent home for unaccompanied minors," said Guilford County Commission Chairman Skip Alston. "ORR is legally required to provide for the care and custody of all unaccompanied children (UC) referred by DHS to ORR until they are appropriately and safely placed with a vetted sponsor. I can only imagine how emotionally and mentally difficult it must be to be a child in a new country, with a new language, to be all alone and separated from the comfort and support of the people you know who love and care about you.”
The school on the 100-acre campus closed in 2019. It will now be leased to the federal government for five years, during which the American Hebrew Academy will provide educational support.
In 2019, the school was valued at $84.5 million. It has 31 buildings, 35 resident staff apartments, an 88,000 square food $18 million dollars athletic center, and a natatorium along with a 22-acre lake.
"It was made perfectly for the situation," said Alston. "We are dealing with children, that's what we have to look into (...) these children didn't ask to be put in those positions unfortunately parents put them in those positions."
ORR currently operates approximately 200 state-licensed facilities of this kind in 22 states.
According to the U.S. DHHS, in fiscal year 2021, about 72% of all children referred to the program were over the age of 14. Sixty-six percent of them were boys and 47% came from Guatemala. As of February 2022, 9,981 children were in HHS care. The average length of stay for a child was 30 days.
Both Alston and Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said this is a welcome announcement.
“This is a unique opportunity for the American Hebrew Academy to continue using its facility for the purpose of educating children and preparing them for their future. The facility will serve a great purpose while helping to place children with a family member or other vetted sponsor. It is important to know that this will not be a drain on any local public resources. These children will not be in the Guilford County School system. The facility will provide its own security. This will be a fully self-contained facility."
Up to 800 people will be hired to fulfill functions and provide services at the Hebrew Academy.
Jobs will include administrators, teachers, counselors, medical care professionals, and other workers to oversee the facility and meet the needs of unaccompanied children.
The academy has a particular need for Spanish-speaking workers.
"This will also have a significant impact on the local economy," Vaughan said. "The new positions needed to support the federal program will be hired to provide services at the facility. And this comes without any incentives from the City. Hiring is currently underway and they are in particular need for Spanish-speaking professionals."
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