“The resilience I have seen in the people we serve is unmatched and a constant source of inspiration.
I am truly lucky to be a part of this work.”
Cole Varga was working on his Master’s in International Relations and looking for a globally-minded internship opportunity when his professor, Dr. Jyotika Saksena (now an Exodus board member), steered him our way. Cole has held many roles at Exodus since then, taking on the job of Executive Director in December 2015. The Indianapolis Business Journal featured Cole in the 2017 edition of “Forty Under 40”, highlighting his leadership and commitment to upholding human rights for refugees. This year marks 10 years since Cole joined Exodus, so we caught up with him to share some memories and insights.
I grew up in LaPorte, in northwest Indiana. It is in that little sliver of the state that is on Central Time – and it is full of Bears fans. After graduating from IU Bloomington in 2005, two close friends and I relocated together to Indianapolis. Now one is a non-profit Executive Director also and the other is currently a judge.
My first introduction to Exodus was through a professor of mine at the University of Indianapolis: Dr. Jyotika Saksena, now an Exodus Board member. At the time, I was immersed in my graduate studies, reading about conflict around the world and the often inadequate response by the U.S. Being able to assist the people displaced from the many conflicts and crises I was reading about was a tangible action I could do to help and, to my surprise at the time, something I could do in Indianapolis. After looking into Exodus, I inquired about an internship and was accepted. The second day of my internship, I became the de facto case manager for two families from China. I was determined to do all I could to help them resettle and adjust to life here in Indiana and pretty soon I was a part of helping many refugees with the rest of the Exodus team.
“Continuing to educate and fight for this program and Exodus has taken on greater importance than ever before.
It’s a fight worth having and one we will ultimately win.”
There have been so many individual accomplishments with the people we serve that it is hard to pick one. Seeing families become successful – whether finding their first job, saving up to buy their first homes, or going back to school – are all incredible achievements to be celebrated.
We have an incredible staff team assembled. It is great to see them grow and succeed.
The most challenging moment during my time at Exodus is now. Faced with the greatest humanitarian displacement the world has ever seen, America’s response has been to limit refugee admissions and attempt to make asylum all but impossible. The contempt for immigrants and refugees by the Trump administration sets a disastrous precedent that will have lasting effects in the coming years. Continuing to educate and fight for this program and Exodus has taken on greater importance than ever before. It’s a fight worth having and one we will ultimately win. We must.
Up until a few years ago, not many people knew refugee resettlement was a thing, let alone that it was happening in Indianapolis. When then-governor Mike Pence attempted to block Syrian refugees from Indiana, our response with the help of ACLU helped galvanize support and educate our community about the importance of refugee resettlement. Working in this field for a decade now, I have learned a great deal professionally and also grown personally. The resilience I have seen in the people we serve is unmatched and a constant source of inspiration. To have faced down injustice or war and continued to live, even thrive, in a new country is nothing short of incredible. I am truly lucky to be a part of this work.