We put endless efforts, energy and passion into our services here at the IRC in Atlanta to ensure the process of resettlement and integration is as smooth as possible for our refugee clients. But how do we succeed? One answer is to ask our clients. The IRC in Atlanta has always sought ways to hear our clients’ voices, through formal and informal channels. But last year we decided to go a step further and created our first ever Client Voices Council (CVC). The CVC has now become an institutionalized feedback loop, where we hear clients’ feedback and priorities, and then inform them of how that feedback fosters organizational change.
Formally founded in July 2022, the CVC includes two groups comprised of 16 total members who represent the diverse body of IRC clients in terms of ethnicity, gender, parents and non-parents, youth, recently and non-recently arrived clients, English and non-English speakers, and especially clients that have had mixed—positive and negative—experiences with IRC services. So far, CVC members have committed approximately two hours each month at a stipend rate of $25 per hour. In addition, transportation and interpretation is provided as needed. The meetings are in-person and on weekends to accommodate CVC members’ work schedules.
The CVC was created with the well-defined purpose—shaped by findings from previous research and feedback with clients—of discussing clients’ satisfaction with IRC services, their ability to communicate with staff and ease of service navigation. For this reason, the CVC activity so far has focused on both hearing clients’ main concerns in relation to these topics and discussing their ideas on how they would like these concerns to be addressed. The feedback and proposals have been illuminating and helpful in addressing gaps in services and ineffective practices.
I wanted to share my experience with IRC so I can help other newcomers and find solutions to problems.
—Faridullah, CVC member
CVC member Faridullah, originally from Afghanistan, has provided invaluable input regarding his experience of being resettled through the IRC in Atlanta. “Services were very good. IRC provided us with everything we needed. But communication was a problem. I was receiving everything, but no one contacted me to explain things, what was happening,” he shared. Faridullah also stressed the fact that “the Unites States was new to me, and I needed to learn lots of new things.” When asked why he decided to join the CVC, Faridullah didn’t hesitate: “I wanted to share my experience with IRC, and the issues I went through in my experience, so I can help other newcomers and find solutions to problems.”
People who arrive from far away need help and I am very glad I can do something for them through the Council.
—Milad, CVC member
Milad, another CVC member originally from Iran, shares similar sentiments. Regarding the decision to be part of this group, he shared, “I have a lot of thoughts to bring to the table so I could share it with you and help the others. I thought it is going to be helpful for both clients and IRC. I want to share with IRC the idea that information for clients is very important. It can change the life of a client forever.” Milad added that “people who arrive from far away need help, and I am very glad I can do something for them through the Council.” Milad had mixed experiences with the IRC at the beginning. While IRC provided “a lot of support for him,” communication was “not always easy.” Milad firmly believes that being part of the CVC will make a positive change for other refugees arriving in Georgia.
In order to identify ways to integrate CVC feedback and proposals across the office, the IRC in Atlanta has created a Client Voices Work Group (CVWG) with staff representatives from the majority of our programs—Resettlement and Extended Case Management, Economic Empowerment, Adult Education, Youth, and Community Health Response. Together, the CVC and CVWG constitute a complimentary mechanism, in which the IRC in Atlanta can hear and absorb the feedback from clients, which in turn helps us to change policies and procedures to better serve the refugee and immigrant community here in Georgia.
The biggest thing that I've learned is that we need to take more time to listen to our clients.
—Alexis Powers, CVWG member
“The biggest thing that I've learned is that we need to take more time to listen to our clients,” shared CVWG member and Career Development Supervisor, Alexis Powers. “I think that's the big take away here. We spend a lot of time thinking about what is best for our clients, and it's just very obvious from talking and sitting in with the wonderful people on this Council that we just need to listen more. We need to ask questions more.”
Top priority really seems to be client communication.
—Brynn Champney, CVWG member
CVWG member and Student Support Specialist, Brynn Champney, shared, “Top priority really seems to be client communication. Having clear communication, having a feedback loop in which clients can report when they're dissatisfied or they need something more, and then they hear back from the IRC. There needs to be a communication system that is not just dependent on the client and their individual caseworker.”
The CVWG gathers monthly and the members serve as liaison for their respective programs and facilitate the work of identifying ways to close the feedback loop for clients within and across programs. Currently, the CVWG members are looking at the feasibility of implementation of CVC clients’ proposals within departments, as well as challenges and structural and non-structural changes that might be needed to address these concerns.
We are starting to see the first results of these joint efforts. The IRC in Atlanta is exploring how to build a more standardized referral system for clients and improve client-staff communication. As the CVC members learn of these efforts, their trust in the IRC is increasing daily. When CVC members were asked why they decided to join the CVC, unanimously they responded that they consider the CVC an opportunity to share their personal experiences with IRC in order to find solutions to problems and help other refugees in the future. We are so grateful to Faridullah, Milad and all of our CVC members for their invaluable contributions towards collectively better serving our community.
To learn more about the work of the IRC in Atlanta and for information on how you can get involved with the IRC as a donor or volunteer, please contact Senior Development Manager, Heloise Ahoure, at [email protected] or 678-636-8941.