Category Archives: International Rescue Committee

Four new VISTAs!

Four new VISTAs started their year of service with the Refugee Support Network on Monday. Learn more about their backgrounds and what they’ll be doing during their VISTA year.

Akshika PatelAkshika Patel

Volunteer Program Assistant

Asian Counseling and Referral Service

Akshika serves as the AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer Program Assistant at Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS). This organization provides a broad range of human services and behavioral health programs to local Asian Pacific American communities. As Volunteer Program Assistant, Akshika recruits, trains, and supports ACRS volunteers in order to provide supplemental support services and increase organizational capacity. While having been born and lived in London, she spent her formative years in Seattle. She graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and South Asian Studies, as well as with minors in Human Rights and Asian Language and Literature. In the midst of completing her undergraduate degree, she volunteered and interned with local non-profits and thus developed a passion for working with refugee and immigrant populations.

Erika GrantierErika Grantier

Community Engagement Coordinator VISTA

International Rescue Committee

 As the Community Engagement VISTA at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Erika focuses on growing the IRC’s volunteer and donor bases and educating the community on the importance of the IRC’s work. She also helps plan and execute Artvocacy and the Adopt-a-Family program. Erika is from Roslyn, Washington, and studied Anthropology and Linguistics at the University of Montana. Before coming to the IRC, she worked at the Young Women’s Christian Association as a mentor and advocate. Her favorite books are the “Post-Birthday World” and “No One Speaks of Remarkable Things,” and if she had to eat one food for the rest of her life, it would be frozen raspberries.

 Kelly ClaytonKelly Clayton

Learning Center Coordinator VISTA

International Rescue Committee

As the new Learning Center Coordinator at the International Rescue Committee, Kelly will ensure the sustainability of the Learning Center programs by providing training and support for volunteers as well as increasing the organization’s capacity to provide improved programs.

While attending Michigan State University, Kelly became interested in refugee educational services when she volunteered at a local refugee center that provided ESL classes. After graduating with a degree in Comparative Cultures and Politics in 2012, Kelly moved to New York where she received her CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). She is very excited to begin her year of service and looks forward to a rewarding experience.

Nick Valera

Resource Development Coordinator

Somali Community Services Coalition

I will be working with the Somali Community Services Coalition (SCSC) as their Resource Development Coordinator, writing grants, fundraising, facilitating strategic planning, and performing a needs assessment. I hope to increase SCSC’s capacity to serve the Somali and East African Communities of South King County with access to social services and education opportunities.

Graduating in 2007 from Seattle University, I completed two years of Peace Corps service in Cameroon, interned at a Human Rights NGO focusing on human trafficking, and traveled East and West Africa fairly extensively. Most recently, I am coming from an internship as an intake counselor at the American Civil Liberties Union.  I am very happy to be working with SCSC, drinking tea, working in an intercultural setting and not feeling at home, learning Somali, and being challenged daily with new experiences.

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Denis: Reflecting on a Year of Service

As I get ready to finish my year of service, I keep reflecting on the many people that I got to meet over the course of the year. I genuinely love working with people, especially people that come from diverse backgrounds. When I commute to the Seattle office, I take the light rail from Tukwila, and on countless occasions, I have run into refugee clients that I have worked with over the last year. My favorite stories are from people who were in my pre-employment class who are usually on their way to work as well. At times in our class, it is hard to see how our work affects people further down the line. People usually find jobs and that is the last I hear of them. Every once in a while, I will, however, run into someone at the grocery store in SeaTac or on the train on my way to work. I usually ask them how their jobs are going, and the vast majority are acclimating just fine. Seeing somebody else succeed because of the work that I or the IRC does is inspiring and fulfilling. I can honestly say that I love the work that I do, and I don’t know if many people can say that about their jobs. For this, I am grateful.

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Cordelia & Denis: Refugee & Immigrant Legislative Day

“This month I attended the Refugee and Immigrant Legislative Day in Olympia with some of the ESL and citizenship students of JFS. The excitement of the students was contagious, and it was great to see all of the organizations involved in the event. For most of our students, this was their first time to the Capitol, and they were eager to wander the halls and take pictures of the steps. Several legislators gave speeches, which were listened to attentively. The students were clearly excited to learn more about their new government and how to make their own voices heard.” -Cordelia

“On February 14th, I took my pre-employment class down to Olympia on an organized trip with Refugee Women’s Alliance for legislative day. There was a rally to support programs for refugees and immigrants and a speech by new governor, Jay Inslee. The rally had a few hundred people, mainly refugees and immigrants themselves. It was a great day as the refugees and immigrants also got to meet with legislators to voice their concerns. The students in the pre-employment class found it very rewarding to be able to voice their opinions and help future refugees and immigrants.” -Denis

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Traci: IRC Seattle’s Speakers Bureau

One new program I am currently developing with the help of two volunteers is our Speakers Bureau. The Speakers Bureau will teach our refugee participants valuable knowledge regarding public speaking and writing. Our volunteers will help participants develop the content of their stories to be presented and help them gain public speaking skills. The volunteers will then arrange speaking and tabling events for the participants to speak at.

This week we had our first Speakers Bureau training. The Speakers Bureau will connect outreach to donors, sponsors, and volunteers directly with former IRC refugee clients, who can teach about refugee issues and share their own stories. We had a two-hour training and a few eager new participants. It was great to see how eager they are to share their personal stories with people in their community!

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Traci: RoRo BBQ & Grill

I interviewed the manager of RoRo BBQ & Grill who currently have two International Rescue Committee (IRC) refugee clients working at their restaurant. It was amazing to hear how well the two employees are doing and how prepared they were to begin work.  It was encouraging to hear how beloved the workers and IRC are by the employer. RoRo’s heard about the IRC through one of our devoted pre-employment class volunteers.

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Denis: Adopt-A-Family

Our Adopt-A-Family program turned out to be a great success this year. Seeing the smiles on families’ faces made all of the meticulous work put in months ago worth it. One story that I will always remember is going to meet with donors to give gifts to a newly arrived Iraqi family. The joy on the kids’ faces as they opened their new Lego sets was indescribable and the families’ gratitude was immense. I saw these two families, who come from different sides of the world become friends instantly and talk for over an hour. The Iraqi family was so grateful for the presents they received, they invited the donor’s family (which included a former IRC intern) for Iraqi food in the future. This experience alone made me so happy to be a part of this program.

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Traci: Adopt-A-Family

Adopt-A-Family was a large part of my work this quarter. It had a lot of different parts to coordinate and could at times feel very stressful. However, every time I felt over my head with coordinating deliveries with donors or making sure every family was matched, a donor would come in a drop off presents to our office for the families and thank us for such a meaningful opportunity to share with their kids around the holiday season.

 I also had the opportunity to join donors to drop of the presents directly to the families. One family in particular was an Iraqi family of seven. The donors brought a large car load of gifts to the family, who invited us in for tea. We spent over an hour at the family’s house watching a video of a family wedding celebration in Iraq and hearing stories about their time in Iraq. The family insisted the donor family return soon so that they could make them some Iraqi food. It was great to experience mutual generosity and the sharing of life and stories between two very different families.

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Denis: Tutoring Success

Our citizenship tutoring program continues to produce amazing stories. We recently had a client who sought help for his citizenship interview. When I first interviewed him, I could sense the lack of confidence that he had and could tell that he was not prepared for the interview. Not only was I afraid he would fail, his lack of English skills made me think he would not stand a chance in the interview. After working with one of our tutors for more than two months, he exceeded my expectations and passed his interview, finally making him an American citizen. I know that his story would be impossible without the help of the IRC and our tutoring program. The change in confidence was amazing and helped our program stay on its current 100% success rate. Our tutors have done an amazing job, and I can only give them praise for the success they’ve had.

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Denis: IRC Picnic

I was in charge of planning the IRC’s summer picnic for our refugee clients and volunteers, staff, and friends of the IRC. As I have never planned an event on such a large scale before, I found it to be a daunting task. With no idea where to begin, I started coming up with a plan for the event. I decided to hold it at Seahurst Park in Burien as it was the most accessible to our clients and had a great area that could hold over one hundred people. The next step was to find donations from local businesses that could support this event. While I was worried at first, local businesses stepped up and donated $420.00 worth of food for the picnic. Needless to say, we had plenty of food for all of the estimated 100 attendees. I can honestly say that I exceeded my expectations and feel proud of my work.

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Traci: Reflecting on Artvocacy

After the conclusion of the IRC’s refugee art event, Artvocacy, an older Iraqi man that I had recruited as an artist came up to me and with the deepest sincerity thanked me over and over for the opportunity to participate in the event. He told me that he hasn’t had many opportunities to share his art since moving to the United States, and what a wonderful night it was for him to get to tell people about his art. It was such a great moment for me to realize that this event was truly about the artists and spreading awareness of their lives as refugees through their story as artists.

Also as a part of the event, we had a USCIS Naturalization Ceremony, where 5 or 6 refugees swore in as US citizens. This was a great moment because it deeply connected the event to its celebration of World Refugee Day. The best part of the ceremony was when two children of one of the new US citizens led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. A definite tear jerker!

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