The Advocate

Dele Johnson

Local author and journalist Helen Thorpe introduces Denver Foundation donors to The Newcomers, a new book about the experience of young refugees in Colorado.

Helen Thorpe is an immigrant to this country. She was born in London to Irish parents who immigrated to the United States when she was a child. Today, she is a widely published journalist and the author of three books. She’s been described as “meticulously observant,” and her books are works of narrative nonfiction that document, in an astonishingly intimate way, the lives of immigrants, refugees, and veterans of foreign conflicts.

Thorpe’s most recent book, The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom, is about 22 refugee teenagers who shared a classroom while learning English together at South High School in Denver. The book was described by The New York Times as “a delicate and heartbreaking mystery story.”

In September, The Denver Foundation Philanthropic Services Group invited Thorpe to present at a luncheon, where she shared insights from her reporting with Foundation donors, fundholders, and their guests. Thorpe gave attendees an inside look into the lives of resilient teens from around the world who made it to Metro Denver despite unthinkable adversity.

The event provided in-depth context and history to an issue with many layers. According to the State of Colorado’s Department of Human Services, 59,910 refugees have settled in Colorado since 1980. In 2017, 37 percent of refugees in Colorado were children. Many of these young people have experienced and overcome extraordinary challenges in their short lives.

As Thorpe’s presentation illustrated, a desire to build new, better lives fuels these awe-inspiring people to work diligently to learn a new language, build relationships, and find gainful employment in order to integrate into a new world.

“Having known two girls who went through South High School’s program for students immigrating to the U.S.,” said Peggy Sass, a Denver Foundation fundholder who attended the briefing, “I found The Newcomers to be an accurate and insightful portrayal of the difficulties these students and their families go through as they make their way through life in a new country and a new culture.”

Through our Community Grants Program, The Denver Foundation supports many organizations that work with refugees and other newcomers to Metro Denver. Many donor-advised fundholders make grants to support these communities, as well.

If you’d like to learn how to support refugee communities, please contact Sachi Ishida at 303.300.1790 or

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