Who Works for Free?
The IRC staff does not guide refugees through the resettlement process on their own. Dedicated volunteers help make the magic happen: organizing donation closets, assisting with green card applications, building refugees’ resumes, driving to medical appointments, filing case notes and delivering furniture.
“There are currently over seventy volunteers actively supporting IRC Tucson’s programs,” according to Volunteer Coordinator Andrew Jenkins. Volunteers inhabit every little corner of the IRC Tucson world, but who are they and what is their role in the resettlement process?
Let us take a tour around the IRC Tucson office.
In the donation closet we find Rebecca Tesar.
Rebecca Tesar, 54, grew up in a little farm town in Illinois, became a registered nurse, married and had two wonderful sons. Then she started suffering from multiple rare spontaneous cerebral fluid leaks. After more than five years flat in bed, 15 neural spine surgeries and many complications along the way, her situation improved.
Although Rebecca is still suffering from chronic pain and headaches 24 hours a day, she feels a little better. Since November 2008 she has volunteered for the IRC. The donation closet is her domain. Rebecca says, “I always liked thrift store stuff and organizing. I grew up in a junkyard, my dad had a salvage yard.” As long as her physical condition allows it, she organizes recently donated items such as crayons, pots and pans, clothes and books.
Rebecca says, “It helps get my mind of my own pains and problems by volunteering. Whatever you can do, don’t think of yourself, because the rewards are fantastic.” And the rewards are great. Rebecca explains, “People do without and they don’t have that much, but some of the people are so happy. It makes me just feel good.”
In the Employment and Economic Development Department Gwen Scott is helping a refugee build his resume.
Gwen Scott, 50, has a PhD in geology and has always enjoyed working in a cross-cultural environment. When she moved to Tucson eight months ago, she wanted to volunteer for the refugee community under the motto “I am willing to do whatever.”
And the IRC could definitely use her willingness. Gwen works three days a week for EED. She says, “I do resume building for clients, and I assist them in filling out hard-copy and online applications.” She also helps teach the weekly job-readiness classes.
About the work Gwen says, “I never thought I would be excited about filling out a Wal-Mart job application online. But I am so grateful that they even got a call back and we got interviews and we got two jobs at Wal-Mart. I never in my life thought I would be excited about that. It gives you a different perspective.”
Her dedicated contributions prepare refugees better for the harsh job-market conditions. It is challenging to job-hunt in today’s economic climate, especially for refugees. For Gwen assisting refugees in this process is part of returning the gifts she received in life. Gwen says, “I have had a lot of opportunity in my own life to do amazing things. I feel like I need to pass on to help open doors for other people and if that means being here and facilitating online job applications, I will do it.”
In the waiting room we find Jim Delaune together with the family he mentors.
After Jim Delaune, 51, traveled the world and lived in Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Germany, he settled down with his family in Tucson and became a teacher in Computer Science and International Business at Pima Community College.
Jim says, “Having lived overseas, people helped me a lot overseas and I would like to return the favor and help people transition into the U.S.” One of his students volunteered for the IRC and he was interested, but never got around to pursuing his volunteering desires. Four years later, he drove by the office, saw the IRC sign and walked in.
Now he is a family mentor. Jim says, “The goal is to help them, but foster self-sufficiency.” He explains that he fills out forms for the Department of Economic Security, helps navigate the medical bureaucracy, shops with them and helps with some job-hunting.
Twenty hours a month turned into twenty hours a week. “I kind of got sucked in, but I wanted to.” Now Jim is working more toward his families’ independence and, as he says, do the “teach-a-man-to-fish-thing.” Jim plans to try out other volunteer opportunities in the IRC office but will continue visiting his family. Jim explains, “I see them as friends now.”
The reason Jim volunteers is to stay in touch with the international community without leaving the desert island of Tucson. He explains, “Experiencing life from their perspective is interesting. It is my way of traveling in Tucson."
For information about volunteering for IRC Tucson, contact Volunteer Coordinator Andrew Jenkins at (520) 319-2128 or email VolunteerTucson@theIRC.org.
Written by Kirsten Boele, Development Intern