Erika – IRC Apartment Set-up

“Have you run across a rice cooker? How about a men’s razor? And shower curtain rings?” Nick asked, looking up from his checklist. These are just a few of the items the IRC provides to newly arrived refugee families; others include: plumped pillows, silverware, a hot meal, shampoo, a kitchen table… the list goes on. The motto of the IRC is ‘from harm to home,’ and there are teams of dedicated staff members ensuring that every family has not only a house, but a home.

As I organized pots and pans and set the clock on the microwave, I thought about the family that would live here. What would the mother make for dinner? Would it make more sense to have the cooking oil above the stove or right next to it? Where do the potholders go? Should I unwrap the silverware so it is more homey or leave it in plastic so they know it’s new?

This apartment was the first I’d ever set up, but our Logistics Coordinator Nick Brown has organized hundreds. “The process of coming to the United States can be an exceptionally trying and draining process for a refugee. The trip takes many hours, if not days to complete, and once the individual or family arrives they still face challenges in assimilating to their new community. Having a furnished apartment with beds made, the toiletries laid out, food in the fridge and plates in the cupboards can be a huge relief for the weary.”

The IRC in Seattle, on average, receives two to three refugee families per week, and they are all given a furnished apartment. Coordinating this requires an immense amount of organization and community support, but the result, giving refugee families a toehold in their new country, is well worth the effort.

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Siobhan – Kent Youth Program

On a rainy, Pacific Northwest Thursday afternoon 15 students, CRB volunteer Janet, partners from World Relief Kent, and I visited the Green River Community College (GRCC) campus in Auburn, WA. When we arrived at Green River our students were immediately struck by the verdant vegetation enveloping the campus. We traversed small gray pathways in a sea of green until we reached the Zgolinski Welcome Center.

As we entered the building we were greeted by one of GRCC’s Career Counselors, Josh Staffieri. Josh arranged a room in the Welcome Center for us to sit and listen to three encouraging and passionate members of the GRCC “family,” as they put it. AmeriCorps VISTA Marwa Almusawi, took the time to explain her background, her struggles, as well as her triumphs. She also spoke to our students in English and Arabic. Students Gabrel, from the Phillipines and Hani, from Somalia, also presented their stories to the students gathered. They spoke to students about the challenges of coming to a new country, learning a new language, and achieving their academic goals.

A highlight of the presentation occurred during Hani speech. She presented in English while a Karen student from Burma translated into the Karen language, and shortly thereafter, Marwa would translate into Arabic. It was truly powerful to see and hear the diversity of the room; people from all over the world in pursuit of better education… it was a magical thing!

After our youth asked the GRCC students questions about college life, we toured the campus. Students were able to see the facilities, like the Lindbloom Student Center, and classrooms. We visited one particular classroom in which GRCC students were running air traffic control simulations in a state-of-the-art control room. It was fantastic!

CRB would like to thank Josh Staffieri, who was an integral part of organizing the program and we are very appreciative of his assistance. We would also like to thank the three presenters, Marwa, Gabrel, and Hani for sharing wise words of inspiration. Last but certainly not least, thank you to volunteer tutor Janet and World Relief intern Chelsey for helping us keep our students safe on the trip.Image

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Brie- East African Community Services

How has your assignment morphed during your service? Do you foresee any of your current activities changing?

 

After months of accidentally saving documents to my desktop or even to the wrong, it’s once again time to re-organize my files.  The only problem, is that in the last few months, my job has been slowly morphing away from the VISTA Assignment Description (heretofore referred to as the VAD) that was given to me at the start of my term.  As my organization changes, and as I settle into the position, my job description has begun to change.  In the beginning, when people asked what I do, I would tell them: “I’m a grant writer.  I write grant applications for my organization so the organization can get money.”  At the time, that was true: grant writing was pretty much all I did, and also pretty much all that I knew how to do.  The part of my VAD about writing a Fundraising Plan, procuring in-kind donations, running a program, writing budgets, and maintaining the whole organization’s list of contacts frankly scared me a little. 

 

Since then, both I and my organization have grown in really positive ways.  EACS has hired a part-time Resource Development Director, which has taken off some of the weight of the largest grant proposals.  I have seen countless amazingly informative Webinars on everything related to non-profits, been to multiple trainings all across Seattle, worked with visionary mentors to make large strides in my administrative capacity, and just given the age-old college try to projects I previously thought were above my ability.  Now, it’s my fourth time overseeing the hiring process for a new intern/position, and I’m helping the  Executive Director and the Board of Directors plan the Strategic Development Plan meeting to ensure EACS’ strategic progress.  I have become both the Resource Development Coordinator, and the “Strategic Initiatives Coordinator,” which is the VISTA project that will replace mine at the end of the year.  I have even had an offer to be hired on as a part time staff person after my AmeriCorps term ends.

 

But still, the question remains: how do I organize my computer files?  Do I organize them by which grant or what type of resource they are, or do I organize them in regard to which project or initiative they pertain to?  This question of where my job title begins and ends will have to be sorted out as my position continues to morph, especially if I am to be hired on in after the term ends. 

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Cordelia – Project Update

For the past few months, I have been working on a job readiness curriculum for JFS’ newly arrived clients.  While the curriculum is still very much in the development stage, volunteers have started to test out finished lesson plans with our clients.  After so much time in the planning stages, it’s exciting to begin to transition into implementing the program.   I’m looking forward to continuing to develop the curriculum, as well as being able to hear and incorporate feedback from our clients and volunteers.

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Akshika- Kava Ceremony

An important part of my position as Volunteer Program Assistant is attending cultural events as a form of community outreach. This past week I attended the South Seattle Community College’s Kava Ceremony.  Having never been to a Kava ceremony before, this was certainly a new experience for me!

The Kava ceremony holds a special place in the Pacific Islander community. The ceremony strengthens the relation and ties of the people to their community and vice versa. Given how much the Pacific Islander community has migrated over the years, this ceremony is especially essential to keeping the cultural value of reciprocity alive.

Individuals participating in the ceremony sit in a circle, thus representing the separate Pacific Islands. The Kava bowl represents the home base and is the source of knowledge. An orator calls the names of the esteemed guests and a server presents these guests with a cup of Kava. This depicts the journey of that knowledge to reach the island. When the Kava cup is placed in the hand of the guest, there is a charge given by the orator. This is a charge of stewardship to the land and its people.

Watching this ceremony and getting the chance to talk to the community members drove home the ACRS’s emphasis on community. That volunteerism for and amongst the refugee/immigrant community cannot ignore the rich cultural traditions of those we serve. Attending this cultural event has shown me that my service to the ACRS Volunteer Program is more than administrative work. During the upcoming year, connecting the idea of community and culture to volunteers will be essential.

Erika- ARTvocacy

Every year, for World Refugee Day, the VISTA in my seat plans an art show to showcase and promote refugee artists and their experiences. The International Rescue Committee has had a supportive home in Seattle since 1976, and we are constantly working to include community members in our work through outreach and volunteer opportunities. We commemorate World Refugee Day with an art show that features refugee artists and a naturalization ceremony in which former clients become American citizens.

ARTvocacy is so named because the show uses art to foster self-advocacy. Refugees are able to share their experiences through art and performance, and community members are able to connect data and statistics with the families who have been resettled in SeaTac and Tukwila and Burien. Every refugee has a powerful story, and ARTvocacy is an attempt to give these stories an audience. The other integral piece to ARTvocacy is a naturalization ceremony performed by USCIS in which a handful of refugees become American citizens.

Please join us on June 20th at 610 2nd Avenue, Seattle. The naturalization ceremony will begin at 6pm sharp, and the show will be open until 8pm. We will have refreshments, and while admission is free, donations are welcome! See you there!

Amanda

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On May 5th, the Refugee Support Network welcomed VISTA Leader Amanda Addington. After receiving her B.A. in Global and International Studies from State University of New York at Oswego, Amanda served with New York Campus Compact and Binghamton University as an AmeriCorps VISTA program coordinator for the Bridging the Digital Divide program. Most recently, she worked as a Donor Development fundraiser at Greenpeace New Zealand. Amanda will spend the year providing support and training to the current RSN VISTAs, and also work to build the capacity of the project

Where are they now?

Here’s news on a few former RSN VISTAs and what they’re up to now.

Marie Hoffmann, Refugee Support Network VISTA Leader, 2009-2010

Currently, I oversee the outreach efforts of a network of organizations, the Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network. My work now is, in some ways, very similar to my work with the RSN – providing technical assistance and support to partner agencies and reporting for the project as a whole. Beyond that experience, my current position allows me to provide outreach, education, and training on human trafficking locally and victim services to community based organizations and vulnerable populations and to develop relationships and coalitions to better serve survivors.

Leann Price, International Rescue Committee (IRC) VISTA, 2010-2011

I transitioned out of my VISTA position into a position at my sponsoring agency (IRC) to help newly arrived refugees find employment.  I am also in the TESOL graduate program at Seattle University (SU).  I believe my VISTA position played a key role in my obtaining a permanent position at the IRC as well as my acceptance at SU. 

Annie Keating, International Rescue Committee (IRC) VISTA, 2004-2005

After my VISTA term ended, I worked for Hopelink for a year doing food stamp outreach and then went back to school (UW School of Social Work) for my MSW…and then came right back to the IRC to work as an Employment Specialist a few weeks after I graduated!

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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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