Introducing the IRC-LA's Afghan Youth Mentorship program

The IRC Los Angeles' Afghan Youth Mentorship program began in June, 2023 as part of a state-wide coalition of non-profits offering services to newly arrived youth and families from Afghanistan. The goal of the program is to engage and connect Afghan youth and families with available resources, provide them with the support they need to succeed academically and socially, and help them integrate into their communities.

The primary focus of IRC's AYM programming is to cover topics surrounding financial literacy, such as banking, budgeting, credit building, financing higher education, navigating a car purchase, and more. Our Afghan Success Coach and volunteer mentors aim to take a holistic approach in building these skills by also weaving in elements of positive self identity, personal fulfillment, mental health and wellness, cultural identity, and integration.

AYM Griffith Observatory
AYM participants enjoy the iconic views at the Griffith Observatory.
Photo: Carly Boos

In addition to the weekly virtual sessions, the AYM program recently had their first in-person meetups at the Griffith Observatory and Live Oak Canyon pumpkin patch, with the hopes of fostering community and connection, all while getting the chance to explore their new Southern California surroundings.

How it started

For most young Americans, learning to navigate the US financial systems of credit scores, student loans, taxes, and even banking can end up as afterthoughts of the coming-of-age journey -- inevitable facts of life to be dealt with as they are handed to those forging a path of financial independence in adulthood.  

For newly arrived refugees and asylees of high school and college age, the task of learning these life skills is intertwined with all the complexities of establishing oneself in a new country as a newly minted adult in a strange land. 

This condition was the impetus for IRC Los Angeles’s Afghan Youth Mentorship (AYM) Program. Born out of the IRC-LA's Center for Economic Opportunity and Financial Coaching team, AYM has set out to equip newly arrived Afghan girls and young women aged 15-24 with financial literacy tools, and to create a communal space where common struggles can be shared and resources for support can be found.  

Channeling AYM's inner Einstein at the Griffith Observatory

On August 19th, 2023, the program hosted its first ever group outing to Griffith Observatory, an iconic historic-cultural monument in LA with educational exhibits and sprawling panoramic views of the city. 

While the program’s twice monthly Zoom meetings are often centered around understanding systems and developing strategies, the purpose of this outing was to foster a sense of community and encourage the young women in the program to explore their new surroundings with family, friends, and fellow program participants. For most of the 20 attendees, this was their first time meeting their mentors and fellow mentees who they had been interacting with virtually for months.  

The success of the outing can be attributed to the collaborative efforts of the IRC, our volunteer team, the Griffith Observatory itself, our partner organization Support & Feed for providing excellent plant-based picnic meals to be enjoyed on the Griffith Observatory lawn, our partners at Lyft who helped us overcome some great transportation hurdles, and thoughtful donors who contributed funds for extra souvenirs like notebooks and pens.  

The impact of this event reaches beyond the event itself -- with all other program activities happening on Zoom, it's important to reconnect in person when we can, and remember that all along our self-actualization journeys, it is important to stop, smell the roses, connect, enjoy life, and learn to balance it all.  

The IRC-LA remains committed to supporting a bespoke, holistic approach to refugee resettlement, integration, cultural orientation, and helping these populations to set themselves up for success in their new surroundings. Mentors and mentees alike look forward to building new skills and creating new memories as the program continues to unfold.

What's next?

In addition to seeing the stars at the iconic Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, AYM mentees were able to celebrate their first Halloween at the pumpkin patch! Everyone enjoyed getting cozy and into the trick-or-treat spirit, thanks to the generous donation of Live Oaks Canyon Pumpkin Patch. We are so grateful to be able to make these important memories together.

The program currently has 17 enrolled participants, and 3 wonderful volunteer coaches. Thanks to growing demand and interest among clients, the IRC's AYM program will be expanding to include a parallel cohort of young men as well. We are continuing to enroll new clients, as well as bring on new volunteer mentors. Read below to learn more about how you can get involved!

How to get involved

We would like to thank the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), and our many coalition partners across Southern California, who we are working together with to support newly arrived Afghan children, youth and families. The AYM program is funded by The California Department of Social Services and coordinated by University of California San Diego Center for Community Health.