Pnina, Welcome Center Volunteer looking out the window.
Photo: Nisha Datt, IRC

Meet Pnina – A Jersey girl at heart, with a strong desire to help others in her community. Her family had the opportunity to live in Europe for some time, which shaped Pnina’s world views, foreshadowing the volunteer work she would set out to do. She shared, “My parents moved to Europe and Israel for a number of years so we lived in foreign countries which opened my eyes to how people live very differently than us and how lucky we are.”

A Childhood Genetic Disorder Led to a Blossoming Career

You wouldn’t know by looking at her, but Pnina was born with a genetic disorder where she was missing teeth. This required frequent visits to the dentist as a child. “Every month as a kid we drove up to New York City and I thought everyone loved going to the dentist!” she joked and added, “…So, I have all fake teeth and [the dentist] did a really great job and it seemed like a good profession,” she explained. 

After graduating from Rutgers University, Pnina decided to pursue a career in Dentistry and went to Dental School. Once she received her degree, she and her husband moved to Arizona in 1982 where she started her own dental practice. Recently retired, Pnina reflects fondly on her career and the connections she built with her team and patients. She expressed, “I had a dental practice for 35 years. I loved it, I really liked my patients. I am still in touch with my staff - they’ve been with me for 30 years each and we still get together – I had the best patients; I am lucky.” 

Introduction to the Welcome Center in Phoenix

Always looking for ways to volunteer, Pnina had read about the IRC Welcome Center in the paper and was intrigued. She gave the Center a call and went through their process, which took some time. “…To be a volunteer there, you have to really want to because you have to go through all these hoops, but I feel lucky - I love it!” she expressed.   

In some of her past volunteer experiences, she would be asked to file paperwork, which wasn’t always as fun. Being at the Welcome Center allowed her to interact with different people and be more hands on. “I went to the Welcome Center, and you could DO things, you know?... It is so rewarding. The Welcome Center, it’s like the most ace to work – depends on your attitude. Everyone is so thankful,” she shared.  

Pnina has done dentistry for the homeless community, young children who cannot afford dental work, but nothing compares to her time as a volunteer at the Welcome Center. “I've volunteered all my life, I’m 65 years old and I have never had a more rewarding, positive experience, including the people I work with here. It’s like my fun day -- It’s what you make it!” she added. 

The Ropa Room & New Friendships 

Every Monday, around 7:30 a.m., Pnina and her dear friend Mauricio, who she recruited to volunteer, carpool to the Welcome Center with a trunk full of clothing for the Ropa Room. “We argue over who drives as we pile everything into one car, but usually he has more clothes," she said. with a smirk.  

There are a lot of moving parts at the Welcome Center and volunteers play a key role in ensuring everything runs smoothly. Pnina remembers her first day at the Welcome Center where she met Carol, another volunteer, who taught her the ropes and someone who she considers a close friend today.  

For the first part of the morning, Pnina volunteers in the Kitchen where she and a couple other volunteers lay out yogurt, bread, and fruit for clients to have for breakfast. They then open the showers and ensure the line is orderly. Over the course of her time volunteering, Pnina has made it a point to bring items that are missing and that are of great help to clients. “I went to the dollar store and bought hair ties that were colorful, and I bought mirrors, because there are no mirrors when they come out of the showers,” she shared. 

A Special Place

There’s no doubt the impact the Welcome Center has on its staff and volunteers. Families and young adults, who are seeking Asylum, walk through its doors daily. They are met with smiles, warm meals, clean clothing, and support for the next steps in their journey.   

Pnina expressed, "I feel really lucky, and I don’t know why everybody doesn’t just work here!

These people have been traveling for weeks and months and they have nothing -- we’re some of the first kind people they meet, and I wish sometimes we could give them even more help -- I wish there were more facilities." 

Pnina has been volunteering at the Welcome Center for a little over a year now and we are grateful for all that she does for our clients. If you are ever visiting the Welcome Center, you'll find her in the kitchen, the ropa room, or by the showers practicing her Spanish and wishing clients 'Buenas Suerte' (Good Luck) on their next steps. She will be the one with a badge that has the Incredibles character, Edna, on it as she has been told she resembles her! 

Did you know?

The Welcome Center has received over 45,000 asylum seekers in 2022 with the help of 100+ volunteers. Without the tireless efforts of our volunteers and community partners, we would not be able to assist all of them effectively. This shared community space allows Phoenix residents to connect with and serve asylum seekers as they navigate their new environment offering them the tools and motivation, and thoughtful interactions necessary to thrive as they set out build a new life in the U.S. 

Ways to Help

  1. The Welcome Center in Phoenix is always looking for volunteers to help with projects! Orientations are offered weekly. Learn more here.
  2. Visit our Amazon Wish List for items that go directly to our clients.
  3. Consider making a contribution to support Asylum-Seekers in Phoenix.
  4. The Welcome Center is hiring for an ASF Specialist, ASF Specialist (night shift), and and ASF Senior Manager. Apply today!