The education team at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City supports refugees and new Americans through early education, college and career readiness, and adult education! As the academic success of newly arrived students remains a primary focus, the team has implemented a community volunteer program, or Student Support Volunteers, that supports students as they navigate their academic lives in the U.S. team focuses on the academic and social integration successes of newly arrived students. Students from elementary school to high school are prioritized for additional support, as they work to integrate into their new community.   

Education workshop International Rescue Committee
The education team's student support volunteers support students as they navigate their academic lives in the United States
Photo: James Roh

The student support volunteer program is a long-term commitment, with volunteers meeting with the same family for 1-2 hours a week. Volunteers support English language learning, academic achievement, and confidence in a school setting. Success is achieved in a variety of ways, whether it be building students’ confidence up enough to step into their first day of school, or building relationships with elementary-age kids needing support on addition or subtraction.   

Sam Leicht has served as the youth and education assistant for eight months, supporting these successful outcomes on a daily basis. “Each [refugee] family that is enrolled in [the IRC’s] case management services gets excited about this program. Their gratitude shows how important education is and how important it is to be supported through it,” said Sam.  

One of the volunteers for this program, Dave, recently shared about his experience as a Student Support Volunteer. Dave spent his career as an engineering project manager and found something he enjoyed about his job was bringing new hires out of college and becoming a support system for them. “It taught me that I enjoyed and wanted to continue giving back to young people,” said Dave.   

When Dave found out about the IRC education program, he thought volunteering to help students sounded like the perfect opportunity to give back. During the Covid-19 pandemic, he met with students over Zoom to help with math and science. Following his experience as a tutor, Dave supported the IRC education program by matching with a family as a student support volunteer. Dave has now been supporting the same family for over a year!  

The assumption with this volunteer opportunity is that volunteers will just be supporting school-aged students with their homework for one hour each week; however, it is much more than that. Dave has supported the family with new school enrollments, helped the oldest son join a soccer league, and even offered assistance as the family searched for new a new home in the Salt Lake valley.  

“I believe that young people have so much potential - wherever and however they grew up - but we are lucky to be used to the different system in the United States - and a lot of the system is very complex and hard to understand as a newcomer to this country,” said Dave.  

Student support meeting at the IRC
The student support program is a long-term volunteer opportunity that builds connection and support for refugee students!
Photo: James Roh

This program proves to be rewarding as it allows for a deeper opportunity to connect and develop relationships with the families the volunteers serve. Dave’s experience is an example of how volunteering is more than just a connection to the work of the IRC. Every week he shows up at his matched family’s home and starts his work, and every week will look different.  

The student support volunteer program is a mind-opening experience for people interested in the work of the IRC especially for those interested in working with youth. Join the education team by volunteering as a student support volunteer, or in their new youth mentoring program as a success coach!