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Finding Your Voice

Students on the IRC Connect Leadership Council visit the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Photo: Lindsay Dusard/ IRC Silver Spring

This past semester, ten high school students from four different countries were selected to represent their peers on the first IRC CONNECT Leadership Council. The IRC CONNECT Leadership Council was created to offer recently resettled students a formal opportunity to develop their leadership skills,explore civic engagementand build confidence in their ability to create change in our communities.Over the past couple of months, students have participated in a variety of activities including the SUMMIT Leadership Course at George Washington University and workshops focusing on public speaking, critical thinking, and debate skills.

The semester-long program culminated in an action packed trip to Capitol Hill where students got to see first hand how every voice mattersis in a successful democracy. The students started out the day by meeting the Legislative Correspondent for Representative Anthony Brown (D-MD, 4thDistrict). Students visited Rep. Brown’s office and had time to ask questions about the staffer’s daily responsibilities and experience working in the legislative branch.

Dakota Morrow, an IRC Youth Development Intern and senior at George Washington University, shared, “The meeting added a human element to the idea of representation in government. I think it expanded many of the students understanding of how underneath it all, everything is done by regular people trying to make a difference and that they can too if they so choose.”

The students then met up with a young men’s leadership group visiting DC through a similar program led by Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in New Haven,Connecticut. Together, the groups took a tour of the Capitol Building and spent time looking out over the National Mall from the Speaker’s Balcony.

The final stop of the day was a visit tothe House Committee on Foreign Affairs, kindly organized by Jacqueline Colvett, the Committee’s Digital Communications Manager. Students packed into the hearing room to speak with Chief Counsel, Janice Kaguyutan, and a panel of staff. The panel answered questions about the committee’s top priorities, recent hearings and their personal college and career paths. Ms. Kaguyutan also shared about the important role that she played in establishing the Special Immigrant Visa program during her time under late Senator Kennedy. “So many eyes lit up in the room once we found out she helped legislate the SIV laws that enabled many of our students and their families to come to America,” shared Tarlan Faal, an IRC Youth Development Intern and junior at the University of North Texas.

Bahara, a freshman from Afghanistan, shared that the trip inspired her to “prove herself” and be confident in her own ability to make a difference. The students returned home honored to have met with such influential figures and eager to make change of their own.

Lunch was generously provided by Potbelly’s at Federal Center and professional clothing by A Wider Circle in Silver Spring, MD.