The celebration at the Alliance for Multicultural Community Services is centered around 15 students, who mostly seem a little shy and embarrassed by all the attention. The students range in age from middle school to a few who are already attending college. They've just been awarded small scholarships -- $400 for the middle-schoolers and $1,000 for the high school and college students.
"A thousand dollars, for these folks, is a huge amount of money. There's also the recognition factor, the fact that someone's recognized that they've worked very hard and has rewarded them for it. And they're seeing what happens when they come to this country. I mean, if this is not the American Dream, I don't know what is."
That's Sue Davis, who chairs the Alliance Board of Directors. The Alliance is a refugee resettlement agency. They work directly with the State Department to help political and economic refugees. These students come from places like Somalia, Sudan, Congo and Burma. Mustafa Faiz came here with his mother and sister five years ago. They had been living in Pakistan, after fleeing from their native Afghanistan.
"For the first six months they helped us with everything. You know, ESL classes, enrolling in school and helping with the rent and all that stuff."
Faiz, who is 20, has been enrolled in Houston Community College and with the help of the Alliance is transferring to the University of Texas, where he'll study political science and economics.
"I want to go back to my country. I understand that it's -- the situation is not as great, the healthcare and education system is horrible. There are some developments and you know it's a good sign, but there's a lot of work that needs to be done and I hope that I can contribute in some part back to my country."
The Alliance has awarded more than $90,000 in scholarships to refugee children over the past seven years. This week they received a surprise donation of $40,000 to continue the scholarship program. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.