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Intern spotlight: Setting up homes for refugees

Intern Spotlight: Each spring, summer, and fall the IRC in Baltimore welcomes a new cohort of interns. Interns have an opportunity to gain professional experience and support refugees and immigrants to become self-sufficient and thrive in Baltimore. Lauren Lehman is currently an undergraduate student at Tulane University. She volunteered as a logistics intern in the Baltimore office in the summer of 2019.

IRC: Are you from Maryland?

Lauren (LL): Yes, I grew up in Towson and my parents are still living in my childhood home.

IRC: Why did you decide to apply for an internship with the IRC?

LL: When I was in high school, I was in a position to be able to visit with students in a refugee camp in Thailand for Karen people fleeing Myanmar. Since learning from students about their struggles within the camp and the legal hoops they have to jump through in order to come to the U.S., I have been passionate about learning more about the resettlement process for displaced people. At Tulane, I decided to major in international relations and international development, and while my courses have provided a lot of information on these processes, I wanted to learn from the people who work to assist in this process every day. Through my internship search, I was lucky enough to find the logistics internship position at the IRC Baltimore office.

IRC: What is a typical internship day like for you?

LL: Within the office, my focus has been on organizing donations, although the majority of my time is spent outside of the office preparing housing for new refugee arrivals. My typical day involves a meeting in the morning at the office to confirm which cases are arriving and when. After this is confirmed, I coordinate with our vendors to ensure that our pre-arrival preparations are complete so that arriving refugees will have a place to call home.

Lauren helps to set up an apartment with all the necessary items before a newly-arrived refugee family moves in. Photo: Ryan Coster/IRC

IRC: What are 2-3 things you have learned during your internship?

LL: First, the most valuable aspect of my internship has been exposure to an international, nonprofit organization. Through interaction with the many departments at the IRC Baltimore office, I have a greater understanding of the key roles in the resettlement process and the importance of collaboration between departments. Secondly, through my internship I refined my ability to be more flexible with day to day schedules. The status of incoming cases always has the potential to change, and in my position, the ability to adapt as situations change has been crucial.

IRC: What is your greatest achievement or thing you are most proud of during your time at the IRC?

LL: Throughout my summer internship, I have successfully set up many apartments and townhomes for families who were on their way to Baltimore. Recently, incoming arrivals were moving into a townhome which I had set up for two refugees who had moved in the week before, and I knocked on the door to deliver more supplies for their incoming roommates. The man I met wanted to help make beds for his new roommates, and asked me who had made his. He was excited to know that I had set up their home before they arrived and thanked me for my work. While taking the time to make a bed or put dishes away in cabinets may not seem like a large task, it is a large responsibility to be setting up a new home. I am definitely proud of the many homes I have been able to prepare for incoming refugees.

IRC: What advice would you have for students or others considering internships at the IRC?

LL: Be ready to work hard and to learn on the fly! Things move quickly at the IRC, and being able to have a sense of urgency in completing tasks is important to keep things running smoothly. I have already mentioned that flexibility was a large factor of my internship, and it will definitely be key in any department in the IRC.

Learn more about becoming an IRC intern! The IRC in Baltimore is now accepting applications for fall internships. Applications are due by August 12.

IRC: What would you say to volunteers interested in the Welcome Home Project?

LL: Setting up homes for incoming families is not only a great responsibility but a great privilege! Some of the arriving refugees may not have had a home of their own in quite some time, and to be a part of their new beginning is a humbling experience. Putting away household goods may not be very arduous work, but for the incoming refugees and their families, it is incredibly impactful.

Learn more about how to help prepare a new home through the Welcome Home Project!