International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Volunteer Spotlights

Volunteer Spotlight: Andrew Koppert

Andrew has been an Immigration Department volunteer since May 2012. He has become an essential volunteer in the department’s citizenship training programs, helping many clients study for their citizenship exams.

Why did you want to volunteer with the IRC?
I heard about the IRC through my friend who was an AmeriCorps member here. She really loved her experience. I needed an internship for my major at SDSU – International Security and Conflict Resolution Program – and the IRC Immigration Department seemed like a good fit. I liked it so much, I kept coming back after I graduated, and I’ve been here ever since.

What do you do in the Immigration Department?
I’ve been a citizenship tutor since I started in 2012. I tutor in the afternoons, so the clients tend to be older, maybe retired, who are working towards getting their citizenship. We work on answering the multiple choice government questions and conversing in English. There was one woman who I was tutoring, she knew no English when she first came in. But she started going to school to learn English, and now she can take the test and answer questions in English. It’s so great to see how hard someone works and their passion for getting their citizenship. And it’s great to hear people’s life stories and really connect with them. And they all connect with each other, too. It’s great to see so many people from all walks of life really mesh.

I’ve also been working the Immigration Front Desk since June 2013. I’m able to help people with their questions about green card applications or the citizenship applications, and we help schedule appointments with the immigration case workers. We also make reminder phone calls to tell our clients about upcoming appointments and tests.

What was your best moment as a volunteer so far?
There was this older woman, who was a grandmother from Colombia, and she was so eager to take and pass her citizenship test. She told me her family didn’t think she could do it. But she would come in and study with us. And every other week she would bring me a jar of peanut butter. And it’s my favorite food! I don’t know how she knew that, but it was so sweet. And she did pass her test. It was a great moment of accomplishment.

What are your future plans/what’s next for you?
I definitely want to work for a nonprofit. I used to think I wanted to work for the government, but after working at the IRC, it changed my mind. I would like to work in the immigration field in some way. The best thing about this position is getting to work with people from all walks of life. And that’s why I’ve stuck with the IRC for so long.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Juliet Azhdam

Juliet has been a Youth Programs volunteer with the IRC in San Diego since May 2013. Her supervisors describe her as a wonderful volunteer who participates in many of the department’s programs, helping students succeed academically and assisting staff administratively as well.

Photo: Juliet (r) with Famo (l).  Christina Braccio/The IRC

Why did you want to volunteer with the IRC in San Diego?
Well, I needed to do an internship for my major at SDSU, and I talked to one of my professors who worked in the nonprofit world. She told me about the IRC, and raved about the Youth Programs. So I decided to check it out. And I’m so glad I did.

What do you do in Youth Programs?
During the summer, I volunteered with the K-5 program with the kindergarteners, helping them learn English language skills and playing games. They were a lot of fun. So I was sad when that ended, but I knew I wanted to continue to volunteer with youth, and all of the options sounded awesome. And it gave me the opportunity to work with different age groups.

Now, I volunteer as an after-school tutor at Crawford High Schools on Thursdays, helping mostly 11th and 12th graders with their English literature homework and lately with college applications and essays. Seeing their improvement and confidence growing is the most rewarding part. I also have my regulars who I tutor every week, and it’s awesome to form those relationships, like a bond, with the students. I see some of them Saturdays at CAHSEE Prep, where I also volunteer.

I volunteer on Saturdays with the CAHSEE Prep program, which works to prepare students to pass the standardized test. I work with two or three students at a time, helping them to understand the concepts. Sometimes at the end, we play ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ with CAHSEE questions, which is so fun for the kids, but it also is reinforcing the materials we just learned.

I also volunteer as a Higher Learning Navigator, and I work with Famo for two hours on Fridays. She goes to Grossmont Community College, and I usually help her with her English assignments and essays. She’s taking a lot of cool classes right now – last week, we got to watch a documentary and analyze it together. I’ve seen a lot of improvement with her as well, she’s doing really well in school. It’s so great to see her do well.

And, I also help out with paperwork and other administrative tasks for the Connect 2 Work program with Mitch and Jessica – really helping out around the office with whatever they need. I like being busy.

What was your best moment as a volunteer so far?
Over the summer, in the K-5 program, there were these two Iranian kids, about 5 or 6, who were really struggling to learn English, and I was struggling to communicate with them. At the time I didn’t know they were from Iran. One of the teachers told me they speak Farsi – and I’m fluent in Farsi also. And they had no idea I spoke Farsi. So the next day, I came up to them and started speaking Farsi, their faces just lit up. We were finally able to communicate. And I was able to explain things to them in Farsi and then again in English, and it was great to see them learning and growing with their English.

It’s also just nice to work with the older students and hear their stories. When they share their experiences with you, it really changes your perspective on a lot of things. They’ve been through more than I’ll ever know, but they are so strong, and I’m proud of them when I see them succeed.

The department environment is also great – it’s filled with all kinds of people, and it’s always lively. There’s a positive energy in the office that creates this warm space students can come to where they feel safe and can build their confidence and forge friendships and really learn the things they need to be successful.

What are your future plans/what’s next for you?
I’m graduating from SDSU with my bachelor’s in December, so I’m starting to look into my next steps. I’m graduating a semester early, so I still have some time to figure things out. I want to go to grad school eventually to get my Master’s degree. Volunteering in Youth Programs with the IRC really made me want to get into teaching, so I’ve been looking into Teach for America or maybe teaching abroad. We’ll see!

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Volunteer Spotlight: Sarmad Hermez

Why did you want to volunteer with the IRC in San Diego?
I found out I needed an internship for my college major, and the first place that came to mind was the IRC. I wanted a position that had to do with my major in some way, business management, and that is how I became an employment specialist volunteer. I also hope to help as a Tax Prep volunteer starting in January, helping clients file their taxes.  The IRC also helped my brother get a job in the medical field, and now he works at a hospital in Palm Springs. They also helped my family apply for citizenship. So it’s a nice way to give back and help others.

What do you do as an Employment Volunteer and Computer Class Instructor?
I help my clients search and apply for jobs online, create and edit their resumes, and do mock interviews with them. We really work to help them find the right answers to questions employers may ask. I also try to help them prepare for the interviews – reminding them to dress nice, shake the interviewer’s hand, and things like that. When they do get contacted for a job interview, it’s always very nice and encouraging for our clients.

As the computer class instructor – most students in the class don’t have basic computer skills, so I help translate handouts into Arabic from English, and we teach the students how to set up email accounts, how to use various job search websites like Indeed.com and Career Builder. We also teach Microsoft Word and Excel, and we do things like educational bus rides and mock interviews.

What was your best moment as a volunteer so far?
Whenever a client comes back to me and says they got the job – that is the best. We know that we’re not just wasting our time and the client’s time, and they are so happy when they finally get their first job. It’s really the best part of helping the clients, seeing them succeed.

What are your future plans/what’s next for you?
I graduate from college in December from SDSU with my Bachelor’s in Business Management. I hope to either get a job here at the IRC, or at a bank. I’m really interested in the financial management.

I also applied for my American citizenship, and I’m taking my citizenship test this Friday! My whole family, we’re all taking it on the same day. We’ve been studying together, and we’re all very excited.  

Photo: Christina Braccio/The IRC

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Volunteer Spotlight: Lauren Dimery
Lauren has been a volunteer in our Center for Financial Opportunity department since May 2013. Her supervisors nominated her to be spotlighted because, “when she started in May, she really hit the ground running,” said one of her supervisors, Michelle Schreiber. “She has great professional and personal skills that help our Career Development clients find jobs. Within the first two months, she helped a client get a job at a well-recognized local clinic. On top of everything else, she is a full-time student and commutes from Carlsbad to get to us.”
 
Photo: Lauren (r) helping a client.  Tina Braccio/The IRC
 
Why did you want to volunteer with the IRC in San Diego?
I’m a senior at Cal State San Marcos, majoring in human development, and I needed field experience to complete the major. I honestly never heard of the IRC before, but when I found the website on a listing on campus for service sites, I was so surprised that I never heard of the IRC.
 
I spent probably an hour on the website, and I knew right away that I had to intern here. The distance [commuting from Carlsbad] didn’t matter because I read all about what we do, the way that we help people, and I knew this was the right place for me to be. And after volunteering here, and working with clients – I’ve never worked in the non-profit world before, but I feel like I found my calling. 
 
What do you do as the Career Development intern?
It’s almost like mini-case management. It’s very interactive with our clients. I work Fridays and a half day every other week, and I’m always booked. I work with several clients over a period of a few weeks to a few months, helping them find more professional level jobs, and really try to inspire and motivate them to keep up the job search. I have a background in staffing, where I would do headhunting and mock interviews, so I know what employers are looking for.   We work to create resumes, sometimes out of nothing. We conduct mock interviews and critique their interview skills, go over the most commonly asked questions. I also created an interview checklist to go over common things to know – what to wear, have a firm handshake, send a thank you note – things that employers look for in an applicant.
 
What was your best moment as a volunteer so far?
I had a client, a Burmese woman who I worked extensively with for almost six weeks. She wanted to be a caregiver for the elderly. She had experience, but she didn’t really have all the certifications she needed, which presented a challenge. We worked on her resume, and she applied and interviewed for several jobs, but she was having trouble landing one.
 
One day when I came into work, I heard from a staff member that she found a job at a home, and I was so excited for her. All our hard work had paid off. When I saw her, she said, ‘Lauren, thank you!’ and gave me a big hug. I could see the sincerity and gratitude in her face, and I was so happy for her. That moment is what makes it all worth it. Knowing I can help people become economically independent and self-sufficient, it’s such a good feeling.
 
I also really loved being a judge for the dessert contest at the staff picnic. I love sweets, so getting to try 30 different desserts, I was in heaven.
 
What are your future plans/what’s next for you?
When I graduate in December, I’m hoping to get my Master’s in Social Work, or join the Peace Corps. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and after volunteering at the IRC, I’m really motivated to apply and hopefully work in a community building capacity.
 
What do you tell people when they ask about the IRC?
I explain what it is that the organization does, and what I do here, and that I’ve never worked at a place where everyone is as kind as the staff is here. I think its part of the culture of a nonprofit – everyone is here really devoted to helping others succeed.  My family and friends, everyone I talk to tells me it’s so cool what we do here. They say that the can hear and feel the passion that I have for this place and the work we do. Working with such a diverse group of people from different cultures is really fulfilling. I feel at home here.
 
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Sarmad has been a volunteer in our El Cajon office since September 2013. His is our spotlight volunteer this week because “he is outstanding, and he never gets tired of helping clients and helping me,” said Lujain Al-Sheik Kahleel, his supervisor. “He goes above and beyond to help others. On top of that, he is always on time and committed to helping the IRC.”