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Dedicated volunteer mentors Tallahassee’s newest residents

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April is National Volunteer Month, where we honor the generous volunteers in our communities who make our work possible! Tommy Thompson is a dedicated mentor in the IRC in Tallahassee’s volunteer-led Youth program which helps middle-and high-school refugee students learn English and better adjust to their new home. Although our volunteer programming is currently paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in honor of Volunteer Month, Tommy shared why he first got involved with the IRC’s Youth program and some of his favorite memories with his mentees.

“I was motivated to become an IRC volunteer because of our country's hostile policies toward people intending to come to our country,” Tommy shared. “Reaching out to the IRC has been such a wonderful and rewarding experience. This is true not only for me but for the other Americans to which I have introduced this beautiful family! We visited Burger King, and everyone was abuzz—staff and other customers—with excitement to have these boys there. People were falling all over themself to help them and to take our picture with my phone!”

Tommy stand with his arm around Eric and Emmanuel in front of the Burger King counter. The boys hold large sodas and are smiling.

"We visited Burger King, and everyone was abuzz with excitement to have these boys there. People were falling all over themselves to help them and to take our picture with my phone!”

Photo: Tommy Thompson

Tommy’s mentees, Eric and Emmanuel, are thriving with the support of his mentorship. With his help, they learned how to read the bus schedule and get to the public library where they have access to the Internet and a quiet space to study.

“I encourage them to speak English by texting me and by sharing their history, their interests and their day when I see them,” he shared. “I try to avoid 'classes', they get plenty of that now that they are in school. I just try to get them to relax and practice expressing themselves about whatever we are experiencing.”

Beyond volunteering his time as a mentor, Tommy also spent time advocating on behalf of the wider community, and recently convinced the state government to install a much-needed crosswalk in the students’ neighborhood to make it safer for them to get to school!

Tommy takes a selfie of him with his mentees and their brother by the river. The three young boys pose behind him and are smiling and wearing life jackets.

IRC volunteer Tommy—a kayaking expert and instructor—took his mentees, Eric and Emmanuel, and their older brother Joseph on their first expedition!

Photo: Tommy Thompson

“I have come to truly love these boys, their precious family, and value my time with them. I asked the kids about how they like the IRC mentor/mentee program, they lit-up at the question and said, ‘Oh great!’ and looked at me as if that was about the dumbest question ever. They love it! When I asked what specifically they like about it, they said, ‘The best part was meeting you!’ Aww shucks!”

With social distancing and stay-at-home orders in place, Tommy is missing in-person interactions with Eric and Emmanuel, but he and his mentees are keeping in touch virtually. “We now tele-chat regularly and I try to help all that I can with their online school work. We exchange 'just checkin' in' texts multiple times each week. We are all looking forward to this being over!”

Thank you, Tommy for all you do to make #RefugeesWelcome in Tallahassee!

To learn more about the work of the IRC in Florida and for information on how you can get involved with the IRC as a donor or volunteer, please contact Development Manager, JC Torres, at Juan.Torres [at] Rescue.org or 786-325-6257.

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