IRC Silver Spring Resettlement Team Helps Refugees Become Self Sufficient
They come from different circumstances but our refugee beneficiaries have something in common from the moment they arrive in the United States. When they walk off the plane into the Washington D.C. airport each is immediately greeted by a smiling IRC caseworker.
The IRC Silver Spring resettles over 1,000 refugees and asylees a year. Some of our clients have lived in big cities before and are entering the U.S. with some knowledge of what life here might entail. Others have experienced extreme poverty in refugee camps outside of their home countries. Each arrives to the United States with a mix of excitement and apprehension.
The IRC Resettlement team is there to help refugees access the resources they need and to become self sufficient in their first eight months. The caseworkers are the state-side point of contact for new arrivals and serve as their allies and advocates. The amount and range of work done by the Resettlement team is extensive. On any given day they could be picking up newly arrived refugees from the airport, helping clients register for food stamps and social security numbers, showing them how to grocery shop, teaching about 9-1-1, advising about home rental and maintenance, explaining public transportation, scheduling doctor’s appointments, registering children for school, and much more.
Part of the Resettlement task list includes the administration of three different grants. These grants allow the IRC to distribute government funding to refugees new to the country. Because of the technicalities of the grants and their origin, it is essential that distributions like rental payment and cash assistance happen in a proper and timely manner. The Resettlement team’s ability to diligently follow the rules of grant allocation is a large reason why the IRC continues to receive funding.
It can be overwhelming for refugees to take in so much at once. Case Manager Ann Marie says it can feel like a fire hose of information. “A lot of people are anxious because they don’t know what the next year holds,” Ann Marie explains. “Some are excited, some are scared; there is a bell curve of emotions. The first month or so they will be happy but then reality of getting a job and being far from home sets in. Having to make rent, taking a job that is beneath their qualifications – their new lives in the U.S. can be challenging.”
Ann Marie remembers one specific client who was having a particularly hard time adjusting. He had spent years in a refugee camp before being relocated to the U.S., and struggled with medical conditions and low literacy skills. After directing much of his frustration at Ann Marie, he returned to her with an apology. “You are the only one in the U.S. who cares for and advocates for me,” he said. “I know you are on my side.” Ann Marie says that this was a favorite moment in her IRC career.
IRC Case Worker Claire Marshall agrees that there are challenges in the field but also amazing breakthroughs. “The excitement of a client getting their first job, a family being reunited, someone getting their green card and being able to apply for permanent residency…when you think about everything they had to do to get to this point it is such an accomplishment.”
Case workers like Claire agree that it is special to watch a refugee’s journey throughout their first eight months and to see them realize that they really can succeed in this new environment. The journey is incredible, but there is also something special about getting to be there the first night refugees arrive.
Last year, Claire went to the airport to pick up an Iraqi family. The family was made up of two parents and several young children. They had experienced bomb blasts in Iraq and had significant injuries. As they walked with Claire and an IRC interpreter through the airport, the father began to tear up. He was so happy that his family was safe and that they had the opportunity to start over. The mother began crying as well. The father turned to the interpreter and asked him to say something to Claire. “Tell her this is a dream,” he said.