Category Archives: Jewish Family Service

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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Cordelia: New Opportunities for Refugee Women

This month, I met with Clair Chean, the director of the Refugee Transition Center (RTC), who is interested in starting an English conversational class at the RTC in the evenings. This class would primarily be for the parents of Kent School District students and would provide an opportunity for those parents enrolled in formal ESL classes to gain additional practice, but more importantly, could allow mothers of young children initial access to English language skills.

To remain eligible for TANF benefits, parents are required to spend 35 hours a week conducting a job search and taking ESL classes. However, if the family has very young children, one parent can be excused from this requirement for childcare reasons; this responsibility often falls on the mothers. And while they may choose to take ESL classes of their own accord, they are not granted a bus pass or provided daycare for that time. For most of JFS’s refugee families, spending an additional $20 a week on the bus to take classes is simply a luxury that they cannot afford, leaving the mothers with few social and educational outlets. While it is discouraging to note these institutionalized barriers, I am very excited about the possibility of the RTC class, which would provide on-site childcare and be within walking distance of many of our clients, granting these women the opportunity to begin to gain the skills they need to successfully integrate into their new community.

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Cordelia: Education

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to realize the incredible challenges that still await our refugee families after they arrive in the U.S.  Many struggle to learn everything from how to turn on the oven to how to ride a bus or pay bills while also worrying about finding a job and learning English.  In spite of all of these struggles, I am continually impressed by the value placed on education.  While some parents have never attended school and others arrived with advanced medical degrees or Ph.D.’s, all consistently and immediately inquire about school for their children, clearly seeing it as a key to a better life. 

As a former teacher, I love seeing the kids anticipating their first day with a mix of apprehension and intrepid excitement and then hearing them describe just a few days or weeks later how many friends they’re making or what their teachers are like. Although I have worked with at-risk youth before, I am continually impressed at how resilient children can be and how their happiness is immediately transferred to their parents. Seeing their children settle into their new community is clearly comforting for parents, who often proudly inform me of the new games their kids are learning in PE or how often they attend tutoring sessions at the Refugee Transition Center in Kent.

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Introducing three new VISTAs!

Three new VISTAs have recently joined the Refugee Support Network! Here’s an introduction to who they are and what they’ll be doing during their year with the RSN.

Cordelia Revells

Education Services Coordinator

Jewish Family Service

As the Education Services Coordinator VISTA at Jewish Family Services, Cordelia Revells works to increase the scope of educational opportunities for JFS adults and youth.  Since graduating from Oberlin College in 2010, Cordelia has worked in various education settings that serve immigrant communities and at-risk youth, and she is excited to continue this work at JFS.  In her free time, Cordelia enjoys reading, running, and exploring new areas. 

Briana Robertori

Resource Development Coordinator

East African Community Services

Hi, my name is Brie Robertori, and I just relocated from the SF Bay Area to be an AmeriCorps VISTA with East African Community Services (EACS).  After studying Anthropology and International Development as an undergraduate at the University of CA, Berkeley, I have been looking forward to the opportunity to work with international populations, and specifically underserved immigrants living in the US.  With this goal in mind, I’m excited to begin my position as Resource Development Coordinator at East African Community Services, an organization that provides social services and educational programming to East African refugees.  Since EACS’s inception in 2001, the organization has been evolving to fit the needs of its population.  Because navigating the American public school system poses one of the biggest challenges to our population, we have begun providing academic and mentorship programs to refugee youth. 

Working in this small but dynamic community based organization, I often get the question “Resource Development Coordinator . . . what does that mean?”  At the most basic level, it means that I am applying for grants with government, private, and corporate funders and cultivating relationships with funding sources.  Luckily for me, my job is so much more than just that.  I am also working with the Executive Director and Program Director to create EACS’ strategic funding plan.  In order to get to know the organization, my days are full of meetings with community based organizations, school administration, and state employees; self-directed grant research and professional development; and welcomed time away from the computer with the sweet and incredibly out-going kids from the community. 

Although the position will be challenging, I am excited for this opportunity to get to know EACS and the East African refugee population, and I know this year will be a profoundly rewarding one.

Siobhan Whalen

Youth Programs Coordinator

Coalition for Refugees from Burma

As the new VISTA Youth Programs Coordinator at the Coalition for Refugees from Burma, Siobhan Whalen will work with the Education Programs Manager to develop and expand youth programs such as parent workshops, cultural competency trainings for school faculty, and student mentoring programs. She will also be supervising CRB volunteers to support their work with the Burmese community.  By working with the talented staff at CRB, Siobhan hopes to make a valuable contribution to her localized international community.

Siobhan graduated from the University of New Hampshire with dual degrees in Anthropology and Sociology. While completing her undergraduate degrees she studied abroad in Rajasthan, India for four months with a program that emphasized social justice and development. Since graduating in 2010, Siobhan has been developing her communication and problem solving skills in the workforce, moving to a new city (Seattle, WA), and in her free time sewing and making arts and crafts. She is extremely excited and motivated to have a positive learning experience in this year of service.

Coalition for Refugees from Burma

Siobhan will be serving with the RSN’s newest partner organization, the Coalition for Refugees from Burma. The Coalition for Refugees from Burma (CRB) has been helping refugees from Burma since 2006. Established as a Mutual Assistance Association and registered 501c(3) in 2009, CRB’s goal is to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate social support services to improve the living conditions and quality of life of resettled refugees. CRB intentionally reaches across ethnic, religious and language barriers to foster community cohesion and build capacity.

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JT: UW Pipeline Project

My favorite part of the quarter was working with the University of Washington students in the seminar I taught through the UW’s Pipeline Project. On the final day, each student presented an analysis and reflection on their quarter of serving at a community organization or school with immigrant or refugee students. It was great to hear most of them integrate portions of my previous discussions on the “refugee experience” and how they used that information to give special attention to the students. Additionally, some of the University of Washington students were from different countries, and they finally had a chance to explain the frustration and challenges of coming to a new country. I was most motivated by the few students who had changed and/or committed to careers in education, especially working with low-English students.

More info about the University of Washington’s Pipeline Project can be found on their website

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J.T. Kendall

Resource Development

Jewish Family Service

J.T. Kendall is in his second year serving at Jewish Family Service’s Refugee & Immigrant Service Centers, located in Kent and Bellevue, WA. He coordinates the volunteer programs, recruiting and training community members as mentors, tutors, interns, and other roles. He also manages the donations program, ensuring that arriving families have furnished homes, and works with the Kent community to create a welcoming atmosphere for the families.

J.T. gained an interest in immigration and refugee matters starting with his study of Latin America and Economics at the University of Richmond. Following college, he lived and worked in Brazil and spent time with the Welcoming Center in West Philadelphia. He also shares a personal connection as half of his family were refugees from Indonesia during World War II.

Jewish Family Service: Refugee and Immigrant Service Center

Jewish Family Service of Seattle began in 1892 with the sole purpose of resettling Eastern European and Sephardic Jewish refugees. Today, JFS supports the adjustment and employment of refugees and immigrants from all religions and cultures world wide, including Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. With our many social service programs like financial assistance, ESL, citizenship classes, and job placement – we help new American families become fully integrated members of our community.

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