When Laila Shaboo fled war-torn Syria five years ago, she was able to join relatives who already had come to central Ohio.

She was fortunate, and she knows it.

For the past year, the University District resident has participated in "Refuge: A Space for Culture and Community," a series of get-togethers for people new to the United States.

The project, which works in partnership with the New American Welcome Center at the North YMCA of Columbus, was founded by McKinzi Warren, a northwest Columbus resident who works for a local immigration law firm. Funding also has been received from the city's Department of Neighborhoods.

The idea for "Refuge," Warren said, arose out of discussions she had with people upset by President Donald Trump's executive order barring people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. Warren sought a way for citizens and newcomers to discuss things, and the first of what have been four "Refuge" gatherings was held.

"They were super happy and receptive that we created a space for everyone to be in the same room and express mutual support for one another," said Warren, who created the project out of Global Conversations, a for-profit limited liability corporation she started.

About 75 people turned out for the most recent "Space for Culture and Community" event Jan. 20 at the North YMCA.

It was, said Malik Wayne Moore, director of social responsibility for the YMCA of Central Ohio, a moving experience.

"We were able to hear messages and be reminded that there is a message in the community that's not one of divisiveness," he said. "There were so many positive messages.

"We learned how to say thank you in about 11 different languages."

"Sometimes people talk about where they're from," Warren said. "Sometimes they dispel a common myth about their culture. Truly, I leave it open for community members to define what they want to do about the community.

"The beauty is that it has been anybody and everybody. The responses have been beautiful. People have shared very uplifting things and people have shared very heartbreaking stories."

"I really, really like it," Shaboo said. "I started taking my family with me. It's really comfortable. It's nice to go somewhere you can share feelings with others who are going through what you've been through.

"I was lucky because I had family when I came here. I feel like this event is kind of like a family for people who have absolutely no one."

"The dinner was more than a dinner for me," Moore said. "I had my 12-year-old son with me and he left there motivated."

Moore said the YMCA is seeking a grant to help fund the program.

"We believe this is something we could do at least every two months," he said.

Future "Refuge: A Space for Culture and Community" sessions at the North YMCA, 1640 Sandalwood Place, are planned for Feb. 20 and March 10, Warren said.

Those interested in attending may respond at eventbrite.com.

"It's been really meaningful for me," Warren said. "It's a way for me to acknowledge that I'm thinking and feeling about what is going on."

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1