Local Partners in Rescue
When Joyce, a newly arrived refugee from South Sudan moved into her new apartment, she was alarmed by a loud beep coming from a strange device on the wall. Her next-door neighbor, a native Baltimorean, came over and showed her how to change the battery on her smoke detector with a battery he provided. An important part of integrating new refugees into the community comes from these types of volunteers and their contributions, both large and small. Many of IRC's volunteers don't have special skills or require training in order to be able to work with refugees. They usually do not even speak the same language as refugees. But they have still found ways to welcome refugees to Baltimore and begin meaningful friendships.
Carol Bishop was introduced to a few Bhutanese refugees in 2009 and quickly determined what the Bhutanese really needed was increased access to English lessons, particularly for women who had young children at home. So Carol began organizing, and the first English classes were held in March 2009 at the Goodnow Community Center in Northeast Baltimore. Carol felt that organizing English classes in close proximity to were many refugees reside would make it easier for mothers and the elderly to participate. With the help of Seteria Brown, another volunteer from the community, the two have been providing two classes every Sunday. The classes have been full ever since.
Gloria Jenkins, a Philadelphia native, had worked as a liaison for Baltimore City Public Schools and as a lease consultant before becoming the director of the Goodnow Community Center. She first met some of the IRC's clients when they were brought to the Center to be oriented to the schools their children would be attending in the community. Gloria says that hosting refugees at the Center has “been a real education for me as I have learned about their experiences as refugees and made many friends.” Gloria adds that the Center has become a more diverse place and has helped the new Americans by hosting “meetings and knitting clubs, ESL classes, and everything you can think of that a person needs to learn about the U.S. and integrate into the community.”
Earlier this fall, Gloria was also instrumental in coordinating donations after a fire destroyed the apartment building where two refugee and several other families lived. Gloria says, “the response to the misfortune was overwhelming. Not only did the community donate everything from furniture to gift cards to paintings to decorate homes, they stayed and helped families find what they needed and load-up their cars. That was the greatest act of kindness that I've seen in a long time.”
Carol, Seteria, and Gloria have now worked with refugees from Bhutan, Burma, Eritrea, Congo, Iraq, and other countries. “The most rewarding part was just getting to know the people and their cultures,” Carol says. “I am learning something every day, and hardly ever stop learning; it's wonderful!” Carol encourages people to volunteer with refugees however they can. While ESL teachers have formal training and experience, teaching assistants usually help students learn how to write and help teach them about American culture. For those who aren't confident in their teaching abilities, Carol suggests people could collect gently used clothing or home goods from their friends to donate to the IRC in Baltimore. Volunteers could also reach out to consignment shops, which sometimes have unsold goods they will donate. Volunteers can also help mentor new refugee families and take them to medical appointments or the grocery store. Carol explains “having someone they can trust, just having a friend that they can ask questions about this unknown land is really important.”
For more information on volunteer opportunities at the IRC in Baltimore, see http://www.rescue.org/us-program/us-baltimore-md/volunteer-with-irc.
Questions about donations to refugees and asylees can be directed to the Resettlement Shop Coordinator Kim McCormick at email@example.com