Refugees Benefit From New Computer Lab
Thanks to the assistance and contribution of a major philanthropic community partner, the International Rescue Committee in Los Angeles opened up the doors to its very own computer lab in July.
“The computer lab was a volunteer initiative, organized and implemented by volunteers, for which we are very grateful,” said IRC Los Angeles’ executive director, Thomas Hill.
Previously the IRC conference room, the lab has seen many transformations over the years. David Landier, a retired computer engineer, reached out to the IRC through volunteermatch.org. Liasing with IRC Volunteer Coordinator Olga Ramaz, he used his technical savvy to help bring about the genesis of the lab. He reformatted the outdated computers and installed Windows 7, which according to Landier, is a more compatible operating system for computers that run on little memory. Yet, he claims little credit for any of this.
“I’m afraid I just supplied the muscle and brain to the effort. Olga was the driving force behind [it],” Landier said. “I just got the computers ready and helped install the furniture.”
The lab is now equipped with nine computers, nine 18.5-inch LCD monitors, one laser jet printer, seven desks, and twelve chairs, as well as five laptops donated by Josh Weston, a member of the IRC Board of Directors, and Honorary Chairman, ADP. A community donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has two more surplus computers he is willing to donate if any of the current nine break down. But so far, the lab has not run into any technical problems.
The lab is primarily being used to help refugees and asylees seek employment. IRC Employment Specialist Luisa Gavoutian said the new computer lab has reduced stress levels in the small, Los Angeles office, which houses fewer than 20 employees.
Natasha Unger, who has been volunteering at the IRC since July 2008, was surprised and happy about the new lab. She intimated that helping refugees find employment used to be more frustrating.
“I had to cross my fingers that I’d find a free computer on my hunt around the office,” Unger said. “As our volunteer group grew in numbers, this became more challenging.”
Gavoutian chimed in. “This [computer hunting] would be stressful not only for the volunteers and clients but also for the staff who would try to make space for them. Now they don’t have to worry about that.”
Clients and volunteers had to e-mail the early employment specialist any material they wanted to print. Then, they had to wait for the material to be printed before they could continue.
Now, volunteers, refugees and asylees have a space that is always available. Unger said she and the refugees she serves use the lab to create resumes and cover letters, search for and apply to jobs, and enroll in non-credit classes.
The lab also functions as a good waiting room. When clients arrive early for an appointment or class, some prefer to go to the lab to wait. Edik, a refugee from Iran, uses the computer to read the news and check Google maps. Ryan, another refugee, has used the lab to familiarize himself with Microsoft Word. Whatever their reasons, the lab is a resource clients and volunteers can use during IRC’s operating hours.
Even though it is primarily used for job searching, Hill has great aspirations for the computer lab. “In the future, we’re interested in offering ESL and youth-focused programs as well as afterschool learning,” Hill said. “We would eventually offer opportunities for our clients to network online with refugee youths across the country.”