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Reflecting on a year of COVID-19 in NY and NJ

As some of the earliest hit states in the pandemic, New York and New Jersey closed our offices in mid-March of 2020, pivoting to virtual service provision. Now a year into serving refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants from home, we're taking a moment to reflect on our progress and learnings from the past year.

Communities make the difference. Early on, IRC activated our networks of fellow community based organizations, local leaders, corporate partners, and new emergency response teammates like World Central Kitchen. Through these relationships we established food access points in New York and Elizabeth that provided hundreds of thousands of prepared meals and groceries, ensuring families kept their pantries stocked during the worst of food insecurity.

Innovation matters. Continuing IRC's overall commitment to direct cash assistance as a critical approach to humanitarian relief, IRC used new tools like prepaid bank cards and new direct deposit systems to safely transfer emergency funds to clients in need. These new tools supported clients while keeping all safe through contactless cash relief. IRC harnessed CEO, IRC's CDFI to launch resilience products to see clients through these difficult days while building financial skills and resilience. Thank you to all who continue to support our vital emergency fund to support client resilience. 

IRC is a bridge across all our programs. While school systems, employers, social services and immigration courts faced challenges in adaptatation, IRC staff were tireless in connecting students to reliable broadband and devices for school, navigating unemployment, advocating with and supporting our social service partners, and preparing clients to quickly capitalize on reopened immigration courts.

There are still places to grow. IRC's transition to virtual service provision developed our skillsets and tools to keep clients and staff connected, but also illuminated new growth areas for programs to improve client resilience. Digital literacy has proven essential for employment durability, accessing services, and engaging with community. IRC continues to make investments in digital literacy programs across our network to improve client outcomes. Mental health supports have been critical to all of us as we bear the stress and uncertainty of this challenging time. IRC in New York and New Jersey continue to strengthen our mental health support options in both offices including integrated stress management skillbuilding, community groups, and, through our partnership with Rutgers University Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, free individual counseling. 

Our work continues. As Community Health Workers, advocates, direct responders and essential supports to refugees, asylees and immigrants, IRC is taking the many lessons of this long year to strengthen our programs, lengthen our vision, and deepen our services to ensure whatever else 2021 brings, we will be ready.

We're looking forward to the day when we can safely reopen our doors in New York and New Jersey. We're even more excited about the new developments in refugee resettlement, immigration and support for those rebuilding their lives in our community. If you'd like to help us prepare for sunnier days ahead, check for volunteer opportunities (New York and New Jersey) and here to donate.