Marika Brown (she/her/hers) has been volunteering with the IRC in Spokane office since it opened in April 2022. Back then the office was small – around 6 staff, 3 volunteers, and 15 clients. “It was fun in its own way,” Marika says. “There were so few of us that we all knew each other. I knew every client that came in.” Since then, Marika has worked directly with clients helping with resume writing, job applications, acquiring home internet, mentoring youth, shopping for groceries, and more. She also works closely with office staff to create and tweak programs, including developing a life skills training course for clients launching this month.

What motivates you to volunteer?

The enjoyment that I can see on the client’s faces. It’s the simple things – going to the grocery store and finding the things they want. It seems very small to me – I can go to the grocery story and find the things I want most of the time. But for a client who just moved here and finds something they want, it’s meaningful. And connecting with clients later on. We had our International Women’s Day event recently and one of our previous clients was working for a vendor there, so I got to see her and see how far she’s come. Another client was there who had taken one of our digital literacy courses where clients got to keep their laptops. On the last day of class she told me she was pregnant, and I got to see her at the International Women’s Day event. She was so excited to tell me about her baby and everything she’s done on her laptop.

What has been particularly moving or meaningful during your volunteer work?

Learning what clients used to do before coming to the United States. They had these incredible jobs – some were pilots, one worked in a refugee camp as a nurse for about 10 years. Then they come here and I’m helping them to fill out their resume for a housekeeping position, because that’s what we can do at this point. It’s very humbling. I know and they know that we’re doing what we can with what’s available at this time, and there’s a mutual respect and understanding and we can work together. 

What advice would you give to someone considering volunteering their time?

One hundred percent, do it. Try it. People often think about doing something and hesitate to take that first step. When you do it once, you’ll be driven to be there. The clients are so wonderful, the staff are driven to be there to help… just give it a try. There are so many ways to get involved, you’ll find a good fit for you.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned since becoming an IRC volunteer?

That nothing, no process, is straightforward. Nothing. There’s so much complexity and so many hoops to jump through. There are so many fantastic resources out there, but things aren’t accomplished quickly or easily, ever. It underscores even more than clients need our help to be successful, because they need assistance accessing these resources to get what they need.

What is your proudest moment from your volunteer service?

Our two International Women’s Day events. Last year, we’d talked about this day, had this grand idea, and then realized the resources weren’t there. The food we wanted wasn’t available – I was running through the grocery store at 10pm the night before, I’m digging through my kitchen trying to find serving utensils. It felt like it was all falling apart. But we did the best we could, and the next morning vendors showed up, we set up, and the event started. We looked up and couldn’t believe that we’d done it. There were so many women, families, friends getting together, talking, learning about resources. It was so wonderful to be in that room full of amazing women from all different backgrounds coming together.

What’s your favorite story about working with one of our clients, staff, or other volunteers?

There was a family who had just arrived – a mother and two girls. I was asked to help them learn to ride the bus, but when I got there the mother told me she wasn’t comfortable leaving the hotel, she was concerned about riding the bus and being out too late, after dark in a new country alone. So I asked her what we she wanted and went to the store for her. I got as much of it as I could and when I showed up at her door she cried from happiness. I watched her girls rip open the cereal bags just like my daughter does. It was such a seemingly small thing that made such a big difference to her. 

Interested in volunteering? Find your local field office and volunteer coordinator here.