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Providing Refuge

Women’s golf coach launches program that helps immigrants with transition

The residence program started by Rollins women’s golf coach Julie Garner has helped two immigrant families so far. Garner has led Rollins to a record six national titles, including the 2016 Division II championship. Scott Cook / Rollins College

There’s one accomplishment Julie Garner knows her parents would be most proud of.

It’s not her combined 21 years leading the Rollins women’s golf program. It’s not even the six Division II NCAA national championship teams she has coached. Nor is it her seven Sunshine State Conference titles, or the four times she has been named the Division II Women’s Golf Coaches Association’s National Coach of the Year.

No, it’s the Refugee in Residence program, which Garner started at Rollins, which most resonates with her. The program works to provide transitional housing, meals, English instruction and other support services to a refugee family from Columbia.

“I am on a college campus with every accessible resource a refugee would need to make a transition to the United States,” Garner said. “I realized we, as human beings, have to do something to help.”

The first family — a husband, wife and their 4-year-old son — arrived on campus in the fall of 2016, fleeing their country’s civil war. Rollins put them up in a furnished, two-building apartment on campus for three months. And after that pilot program was deemed a success, Rollins recently welcomed a second refugee family to campus. The school plans to house one family per academic semester as long as it has vacant residential space.

The program is the only one of its kind on a Florida campus, but Garner believes Rollins has set an example she hopes other, larger schools will follow.

“I want this to be a nationwide thing,” she said. “We don’t know what is possible until we try.”

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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