By Amy Blackwell, Immigrant and Refugee Justice Ministry Team
One of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at UUFR is working with refugees. Our Immigrant and Refugee Justice Ministry Team has relationships with two refugee resettlement agencies in Raleigh.
Through that connection, I got to work with a woman who had come to the U.S. alone from Democratic Republic of Congo. She had left family members behind and didn’t know if they were safe. She spoke very little English and did not drive, but needed treatment for a chronic medical condition. I was able to drive her to doctor appointments in Chapel Hill. Even though her life had been one of persecution, danger, and loss, she always greeted me with a smile. After almost five years in the U.S., she took the citizenship test and is now a self-sufficient citizen living in Raleigh. I played a small part, but she did all the hard work.
Refugees fleeing persecution and violence around the world do receive some support from the U.S. government when they arrive, but not as much as you might think. They even have to repay the cost of their airline tickets. Volunteers offer much needed support for these displaced people struggling to understand a new country. They provide transportation, mentoring, tutoring and English as a Second Language lessons. They help people learn basic skills such as how to use public transit or register their children for school.
These needs are not met by government contracts, but rather by caring, sensitive and patient community members. Would you like to be one of those volunteers?
Here are two ways to get involved:
- Participate in a UUFR Project
UUFR has several refugee projects throughout the year, including children’s parties, mentoring, opportunities for ESL teaching, and apartment set-up for families just arriving in Raleigh. We also collect items when a need is identified, such as school supplies, diapers, wipes, baby car seats or booster seats.
We put notifications for these projects on Facebook and in the Chalice, but you can also be notified of them by signing up for our team’s email list. Send an email to Pat McLaughlin at [email protected] if you’d like to be added. You can become an active member of the team or a follower, someone who reads the minutes and participates when interested and available.
- Work One-on-One with Newly Arrived Refugees
If you want to work directly with refugees, both Raleigh resettlement agencies, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and Lutheran Services Carolinas, have a required volunteer application. Refugees may have experienced many types of trauma prior arriving in the U.S., including torture, hunger, persecution, loss of home and loss of loved ones. For these reasons, the agencies require an extensive background check of each volunteer that will have personal contact.
The USCRI application process takes several days, and the volunteer cannot have face to face assignments until the application is approved. Lutheran Services has an umbrella policy that covers UUFR members who are in the process of applying.
If you think you are interested in face-to-face refugee experience, you should contact one of the resettlement volunteer coordinators to begin the application process. The volunteer coordinator at USCRI is Thuy Dancik, [email protected] The contact at Lutheran Services is Dara Ehtesham, [email protected]. You can work with either to create a schedule that fits with your interests and is convenient for you. There are one-time as well as ongoing activities.
Once you are on their lists, you will receive notices when there are opportunities to volunteer or special trainings and events. UUFR members are actively involved with both local agencies. You can learn more on these websites: USCRI and Lutheran Services. If you’d like to talk with someone at UUFR who has volunteered in this way, contact our team at [email protected]