Monday, February 26, 2024

Copper Canyon teen uses technology to connect refugees to critical resources

David Gibson remembers the moment as if it were yesterday. The 17-year-old Copper Canyon resident was volunteering with a local humanitarian organization supporting displaced refugees when he befriended a gentleman complaining of a toothache he’d had for months. When Gibson asked him why he hadn’t seen a dentist yet, the man admitted he didn’t know where to go.

That shockingly honest answer caught Gibson off guard. But even more telling were the hundreds of additional interactions he’d had with refugees facing similar situations — many legitimately had no idea what resources were available and where to find them.

In their mind, resources related to healthcare, legal, citizenship classes, and other critical support seemed unfathomably out of reach.

“I learned quickly that refugees don’t think about their problems the same way we do,” said Gibson, a homeschooled junior in high school. “If I have a problem like a toothache and need a dentist, I Google it and know exactly where to go. Refugees don’t always know what’s available, so they ultimately go without the support they desperately need.”

Naturally, Gibson immediately set out to help make those resources easier to find — and the result is juntosdfw.org.

At its core, Juntos DFW is a free, easy-to-use single-site online directory connecting North Texas immigrants and refugee populations with critical information and resources in four key areas: health, legal, learning, and help. Think of it as a resource hub or map that functions as a landing page. If a visitor to the site needs urgent care, they can search Juntos’ database and quickly access a list of nearby facilities — many of which cater to refugees with free or reduced-cost care. The same can be said if a refugee is interested in ESL or citizenship classes, has a pressing legal need, needs a women’s shelter, or is simply looking for a helpful community to lean on.

Gibson conducted research in the community and online to gather information about immigrant-friendly critical service providers. He continues to add more resources to the site, which incidentally does not request, record, capture, or use user information.

Juntos DFW only services the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But it is already averaging an estimated 55,000 page clicks. It is also one piece of a much larger initiative called the JuntosProject. With the JuntosProject, Gibson is actively recruiting other high school students passionate about human rights to bring Juntos sites to other areas of the country.

There are already Juntos sites being developed for Houston and Austin.

“To know something like this exists and works is an amazing feeling,” said Gibson, who admitted he slowly created the site and its available resources over the course of a year in between his homeschool classes. “I love having a positive impact on people; I’m very patriotic, and my goal is to be a politician someday so that I can help more people.”

Gibson said he doesn’t come from a long line of activists, politicians, or humanitarians. He simply developed a love for helping people at an early age and quickly recognized the struggles many immigrants and refugees face when trying to search Google or sift through dozens of websites in a language that may not be their native tongue.

Beyond Juntos, he has been working hard to put himself on the front lines, including serving as a docent and junior board executive at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum (DHHRM). He also teaches ESL through Gateway of Grace and is active with the Copper Canyon Town Council, having recently helped organize a crime prevention luncheon while simultaneously working on getting more like-minded youth involved in local politics.

In addition to his high school courses, David is a student at UNT and focuses on history and political philosophy.

His dream is to one day attend a top tier university.

“Obviously, aim high, right?” Gibson said with a laugh. “I just want to help people, particularly refugees. I want them to know they aren’t alone and that there is a larger network of people and resources that want to help them.”

Should you wish to support JuntosDFW or the JuntosProject, please share the site with an immigrant or refugee or consider volunteering or donating to one of these humanitarian organizations.

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