In mid-March, the IRC in Dallas’ physical offices had to close due to COVID-19, but our commitment to serving families and individuals did not stop. In the time since, we have been working in new and unique ways to make sure our clients are transitioning to their lives in America, as we would in any other time.
Each department in the office has adjusted to a new way of functioning. Read below to learn how we continue our work.
The IRC in Dallas’ direct service staff and social work interns called over 100 current and past clients to make sure they knew about the pandemic and what to do to remain safe. Assessments were conducted with interpreters and cultural brokers and included questions about knowledge of social distancing, and what to do if they felt unwell. Explanations were given whenever information was unknown.
We also asked about their food supply, employment, and what other issues are worrying them now and documented the needs for our community at large. We found that nearly 90% of those surveyed knew about the virus and the precautions to avoid getting. By early April, almost 40% of clients have had their work hours cut. Over 30% were concerned about their food supply and several were concerned about the lack of schooling for their children.
New Roots and Food Security
As you’ve probably seen in the news or social media, our New Roots Coordinator, Isabella Chamberlain, has been distributing food to our community. Due to reductions in hours and job losses, as well as closure or reduced hours at food pantries and other charitable organizations, food insecurity has been a large problem for our families and individuals.
When the shutdown started, our New Roots Coordinator reached out to community partners and they came out to help! Big Tex Urban Farms, long-time partner Northridge Presbyterian Church, IRC community gardeners, Buckner International, and a grant from the Church of Latter Day Saints have been providing fresh produce, food, and items for us to distribute bi-weekly in the Vickery Meadows neighborhood. We also hand out information on food services, financial assistance, and census data. Each week 40 to 50 bags of donations are collected and distributed.
If you are interested in providing items, please contact DonationsDallas [at] rescue.org for more information.
Resettlement and Core Services
In March, all Reception and Placement caseworkers called their clients to update them about the IRC’s new status and how their services would now be accessed remotely. Calls were made twice a week to make sure that all important information was distributed and that our newest clients were well educated in the current situation. Clients are still able to reach out to their caseworkers via phone or text and alert them as needs arise. Regular follow-ups are still occurring with service plans, budgets, and school enrollments.
Since going remote, we have had eleven arrivals who came with Special Immigrant Visas (for people who worked with the US military in Afghanistan and their families) and an additional five refugee arrivals. We have been working on enrolling them in eligible benefits as they begin their new lives in America. The Cultural Orientation classes for newly-arrived clients continue remotely via telephone and teach what life will be like in America and how to be a good community member by following the laws, paying rent, and making sure that children go to school in normal circumstances.
Our Academic Coaching program has been working with students and some teachers to help get kids situated for online learning. We have delivered school supplies, applied for hot spots, and provided tech support through phone calls, Zoom, and Google Hangouts.
For those students who were a bit more situated, we have been continuing personalized service plans, including one-on-one reading, working on resumes and job readiness skills, and essay writing.
This weekend, we will have our first digital Saturday Learning Series (a monthly social and educational gathering) where students will get a chance to socialize remotely with other program participants and speak to a guest speaker about his job in videography and photography.
Our employment team has been in constant contact with our clients. We have been assisting with job applications for those who have lost their jobs and helping clients fill out the unemployment applications in this current backlog.
In the next week digital Job Readiness Training and Financial Literacy, a necessary part of learning how to be an employee in America, will get off the ground and be an option for our individuals as we practice social distancing.
In order to continue training for our clients, a tech lending program was developed. With most of the world participating in social distancing, many jobs and educational institutions have moved to virtual platforms. With this lending program, Career Pathways clients are allowed to borrow the Economic Empowerment department’s laptops and hotspots for 14 days. Clients still benefit from Digital Literacy classes and it’s all done virtually through Google Hangouts. Now is the best time to make sure our clients are not being left out of those opportunities. Currently we have clients in Commercial Driver’s License, Forklift, and Welding cohorts.
Our Financial Coach is, like most of the staff, working via phone call and Zoom. She continues to counsel clients on their financial needs (budgeting, savings, building credit, etc.) and is teaching both group and one-on-one Financial Literacy classes. She is providing assistance with applications for the IRC’S Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) loan program (credit-building, car purchase, education/training, immigration, etc.) and helps our clients with related finance needs.
Since the COVID-19 crisis, she is helping clients access financial assistance like stimulus money and small business loans and assisting clients as we transition away from checks and into reloadable cards.
Extended Case Management
Our Extended Case Management team traditionally works with clients up to five years after arrival and in these current circumstances they are becoming even more important. From helping with medical issues to assisting in enrolling clients in unemployment benefits or SNAP, the ECM team is still working hard for our families and individuals.
Caseworkers work with clients remotely and check in on them to make sure they are aware of COVID-19 related health issues and know that the IRC is still in their corner to help with their needs. When special COVID-19 additional assistance is needed, referrals are being made for help both inside and outside our office.
With the shutdown of the physical office, our Mental Health team has been adapting to continue their services with clients. Though initially in a crisis management position, the department has been transitioning gradually into a new medium: telehealth. Telehealth comes with its own unique complications that had to be addressed. Finding HIPPA compliant platforms, changing intake procedures, and making sure that clients are in a safe and comfortable place to have their sessions are just a few of the concerns.
With the current crisis only adding to people’s mental health strains, referrals are still coming in from the office and the new remote program is busier than ever.
This forced move into telehealth has the long-term benefit of allowing mental health services to reach more clients as transportation—a common barrier—is removed.
Our Immigration department continues to serve while being remote. Greencard applications are ongoing for refugee clients who have been here for at least a year and medical screenings for the applications are still occurring. DACA renewals, citizenship applications, and family petitions that have already been transferred to the National Visa Center are all still being worked on.
While USCIS in-person services have stopped, applications are still being received for citizenship. Our team continues to respond to Requests for Evidence and Notices for Continuance for pending applications. Additionally, we are completing Humanitarian Parole packets to support the release of detained individuals who are at high-risk for COVID-19 from the Prairieland Detention Facility.