Iraqi students studying at UMass to hold fundraiser for Amherst Senior Center

Last modified: Friday, July 24, 2015

AMHERST — Iraqi students studying at the University of Massachusetts this summer will hold a fundraising event for the Amherst Senior Center Friday night.

For the fourth year in a row, the Iraqi scholars — who are participating in the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program run by the UMass Civic Initiative — will host a cultural presentation, sharing stories of their lives in their homeland through a slide show, singing, dancing and talking with guests. The event begins at 8 p.m. at Bistro 63 at the Monkey Bar, 63 North Pleasant St.

The Civic Initiative, a part of the UMass Donahue Institute, has hosted groups of scholars from Iraq as part of a public policy studies program since 2010.

Michael Hannahan, director of the UMass Civic Initiative, said in a statement that the fundraiser marks the culmination of public policy studies and community involvement activities, and is a way for the scholars to give back to the community they have lived in for the past month.

“For the last two weeks, the group has gained really valuable hands-on experience with the senior center’s Meals on Wheels program as part of their education about public health policy in the U.S.,” Hannahan said.

Senior Center Director Nancy Pagano said Amherst elders have appreciated the students’ participation.

“We feel so fortunate to have been selected for their study, volunteer work and fundraising efforts,” Pagano said.

Pagano said senior citizens who receive lunches and dinners on the Meals on Wheels route have provided feedback about how much they enjoy being able to interact with international students.

During their time in Amherst, the students also visited the Senior Center, where Pagano gave a presentation showing the activities available to senior citizens and how the center helps improve their lives.

In Iraq, elders typically are more housebound and stay with their families, and often don’t have the opportunity to live on their own. Pagano said the fact that American elders are more mobile and independent surprised the Iraqi students, which she hopes will serve as inspiration for them.

“I told these young people that I hoped they will remember what they saw here and maybe someday they could be part of influencing changes which could bring development of services and opportunities for seniors,” Pagano said. A goal of the Civic Initiative program is to provide participants ways to affect social change in their home country.

The visits of the Iraqis are sponsored the U.S. State Department.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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