On July 25 and 26, the Virginia Office of Newcomer Services (ONS) hosted their first Resettlement Conference in 20 years. Resettlement agencies, partners and volunteers from all over the state gathered in Richmond for two days of learning and sharing best practices in resettlement.
As part of the conference, ONS recognized the exceptional contributions of individuals, businesses and organizations with the “Service Provider of the Year” award. Two of the three award recipients were IRC in Charlottesville partners.
English as a Second Language (ESL) Instructor Heidi Gordon received the individual award for her tireless efforts to help refugees in Charlottesville learn English and integrate into the community. Gordon has been the IRC’s primary onsite English instructor for 17 years. She also teaches English and facilitates the Dialogue Café at Thomas Jefferson Adult and Career Education (TJACE), part of Piedmont Virginia Community College’s (PVCC) network of community resources for newcomers. “Heidi has been a fixture in the IRC office. She welcomes refugees with all levels of English ability into her classroom and helps them connect to other classes at TJACE as their skills improve and their needs change,” says IRC in Charlottesville Development Coordinator, Diana Cole Connolly. “She also leads tutor training for the volunteers who will work one-on-one with refugees to help them improve their skills and confidence, and is an invaluable resource to both volunteers and students.”
The Women’s Initiative received the organization award for their efforts to support the mental health and wellness of refugees in Charlottesville. Accepting the award on behalf of the Women’s Initiative were Joanna Ajex, Elizabeth Irvin and Ingrid Ramos. The Women’s Initiative collaborates with the IRC to support a number of programs, including offering counselling sessions to refugees at the IRC Office, and co-facilitating the Trauma-Informed Cross-Cultural Pyschoeducation (TiCCP) curriculum that serves as the backbone for the New Roots program’s Community Wellness Workshops. “Our collaboration with the Women’s Initiative helped us to expand the healing resources and support community available to and used by our refugee clients and to build on our own capacity as staff to understand our clients’ experience and act as meaningful allies for them here in Charlottesville,” say IRC in Charlottesville Senior Director of Food and Agriculture Programs, Brooke Ray.
Also recognized was the northern Virginia Chipotle franchise for their efforts to employ refugees and provide on-the-job training for career advancement opportunities within the Chipotle network.