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Baltimore zooms with refugee youth, Apoline's story

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By: Beeta Riahi, volunteeer and famiy mentor coordinator

In recognition that an interrupted education is very common to the refugee experience, the IRC in Baltimore initiated the Refugee Youth Mentoring Project (RYMP) to match newly arrived refugee youth and young adults to positive adult mentors in Baltimore. These “youth success coaches” provide personalized interaction and guidance to their mentees in an informal setting, offering critical support to refugee youth in the era of COVID-19.

Before the pandemic forced everyone to socially distance, a youth success coach and an IRC staff person would gather at the youth’s home to greet the family and co-create a learning plan in the areas of academic achievement, vocational advancement or social inclusion. But in light of the need to go remote, in July the IRC in Baltimore launched its inaugural virtual youth coaching group.

Felix, Youth Services Coordinator, ensured that every mentee had the technology to connect, and sometimes he had to teach the youth how to use zoom via a combination of WhatsApp and zoom itself. Even some youth success coaches had to learn to zoom for the first time so they could meet with their mentee. Supportive parents, engaged youth and dedicated staff have ensured that weekly sessions take place over the course of the three month program so mentees can advance career and academic goals and practice English. The following exchange is an interview between a youth success coach, Treasure and her mentee, Apoline  


IRC: Why did you want to participate in the coaching program?

Apoline: I wanted to know more about Baltimore and the USA, as well as subjects that could help me in school.

Treasure: I moved to the United States almost 10 years ago and I remember how difficult for me to integrate socially into my new environment. Although it was challenging, I had support of family and friends along the way. Knowing how crucial support was in feeling at home in the U.S, I wanted to be helpful in someone else’s journey.


IRC: What has been the most important part of this coaching experience so far?

Apoline: Learning with my mentor helps me feel more confident for when I will go back to school. I really like my mentor and the effort she puts into our meetings. We watch videos with subtitles to learn English. We also have looked at art and architecture.

Treasure: During this mentorship, I discuss with Apoline about her goals, how her week went, and we watch a variety of shows from different cultures and discuss them afterwards. The most valuable part of this mentorship has been to learn briefly about Apolina’s culture and being able to have discussions about our shared interests.


IRC: What is it like to participate through zoom?

Apoline Sometimes it can be difficult not being in person because I feel like could get to know Treasure better. However, I think it is fun to learn new technology and to be able to learn in new ways.

Treasure: IRC provided a list of virtual interactive sites to visit and that was very helpful in initiating conversations about things we found interesting such as mythology, or biology, for example. That led us to begin watching this animated show called Papyrus and conversing afterwards.

Apoline (top) and her mentor, Treasure (bottom), watch Papyrus together.

IRC: What are you most excited about moving forward with the coaching program?

Apoline: We have looked at buildings, designs, art, watched videos and practiced speaking English. I’m learning to not give-up if you feel uncomfortable. You should work hard for what you want, and the mentor will help you.

Treasure: I am excited to learn even more about my mentee and have more conversations about our shared interests. This week, I am planning for a conversation about superstitions because they can reveal a lot about one’s culture!


If you are interested in becoming a coach for our fall group start by signing up here.

If you or someone you know would like to request services from the IRC, please call 410-327-1885, ext. 111 or fill out this form online. We are usually able to respond to inquiries within 2-3 days.

If you would like to consider supporting our clients and work during this crisis, we encourage you to consider making a financial donation to our office or purchasing Visa gift cards from our Amazon Wishlist to be sent to clients.