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Summer at the IRC as an AmeriCorps VISTA

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AmeriCorps VISTA is a national federal service project that places dedicated volunteer service members at host offices for year-long and summer capacity building service opportunities. Their efforts at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City strive to sustainably improve programs and services offered to refugees and New Americans. Now, as the summer associates wrap up their ten weeks of service, they reflect on their time here at the office and look forward to their future hopes. 

Morgan Skidmore, program integration & ESL summer associate

Summer associates reflect on their service at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City.
Morgan Skidmore worked to develop a plan to integrate ESL curriculum into a broader range of programs at the IRC in Salt Lake City. Photo: Courtesy of Morgan Skidmore

Morgan’s interests span far and wide, and she brings enthusiasm and knowledge to each new idea. Morgan graduated with a Master’s degree in international educational development in May. Prior to this accomplishment, she lived in Dakar, Senegal on a government language fellowship during which she studied French and the local language, Wolof. Although the pandemic cut her time there short, she is grateful for the experience and has enjoyed being the ESL & program integration summer VISTA. “If I could have one superpower,” she says. “it would be to speak every mother-tongue language!” During the virus outbreak, she has “dubbed [herself] a budding triathlete.” A little-known fact about her, she would like to become a documentary filmmaker.

“My main project is aligning the virtual ESL classes with the Job Readiness classes and Financial Capabilities classes,” Morgan says. “Day-to-day duties usually involve identifying curricular needs, searching for documents to see if certain ideas have already been tried... I really love the clients and staff I work with even though I’ve never met them in person...I’m proud of the connections I’ve made with clients and the way I’m able to speak to them directly in French/Spanish when possible. The work really came alive for me when I called my first client and invited her to the English class. I was on such a high after my first day contacting clients like ‘This is why we do this!’”

This fall, Morgan will be teaching an online class as an adjunct professor. She hopes to work for the IRC or a similar organization in the future.

Anat Berday-Sacks, Spice Kitchen Incubator summer associate

Summer associates reflect on their service at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City.
Anat Berday-Sacks supported efforts to redesign and modify Spice Kitchen programs to adapt to the new business environment created by the spread of COVID-19. Photo: Courtesy of Anat Berday-Sacks

Anat has been all over, spreading her insight and curiosity with her. “I love exploring new places, hosting potlucks, and organizing via spreadsheets,” she says. Anat boarded for high school in Chicago and then studied international development and Arabic at the University of Maryland. “During a semester abroad in Tunisia studying migration and ‘interning’ at a local bakery,” she shared. “I began a habit of staying in touch with friends and family by sending letters and postcards with watercolor sketches of memorable sights.” After graduation, she moved to Calais, France to volunteer with a non-profit called Refugee Youth Services where she served as an operations officer.

Due to the pandemic, Anat moved back to the United States early. However, Anat sees the silver linings: “...I’m so glad that gave me the opportunity to join the IRC’s Spice Kitchen team as an Americorps Summer Associate,” she says. “I’m excited to work on a program where outputs are immediate and tangible (order Spice to Go and see what I mean!). Furthermore, I love how the Spice Kitchen empowers refugees to sustainably profit from sharing their talents and culture with the local community. So far I have helped the Spice Kitchen design, modify, and execute programs to adapt to the spread of COVID. You can find me working alongside chefs in the kitchen, brainstorming new menus with entrepreneurs, or color-coding schedules on Box.”

After this summer she will begin a year-long AmeriCorps VISTA position with Spice Kitchen Incubator and is excited to help develop the program. “Regardless of where I am,” she says. “I want to keep cooking new foods, laughing with new friends, and wearing out my shoes.”

Monica Privette, economic empowerment summer associate

Summer associates reflect on their service at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City.
Monica Privette supported newly-arrived refugees in their efforts to find employment and begin working toward self-sufficiency in their new home. Photo: Courtesy of Monica Privette

Monica has dreams that stretch for miles, and she doesn’t let anything dampen her excitement for the future, not even pandemics. Although she had plans to do resettlement work in Slovenia with her best friend, spend time in Spain and get married this year, all of her plans changed. Still, she immediately began looking for refugee resettlement work in Utah and was thrilled to join the economic empowerment team at the IRC in Salt Lake City. “I love to learn,” she shares. “In fact, I love a lot of things, but learning is definitely a hobby I claim crucial to my personality.”

“Let me shine some light on the normal routines during my VISTAship,” she shares. “9am, pull open the computer and check my emails. Nothing? Yep, no response yet even though I know for sure I submitted six [job] applications on Friday.” Her work leads her to search for jobs and find places that have hired refugees in the past. “Then, my favorite part,” she says. “I get to talk with my clients and ask them about their job search or ask them about how their new job is going!” She has also designed the curricula for their job readiness class and acts as a tech assistant during the class.

She expects the next few years to involve sleepless nights at university and volunteering with refugee services. “I’m not sure just what my path will be,” she says. “But I know that I am dedicated to serving the refugee & asylee population."

Sara Hockett, New Roots farm summer associate

Summer Associates reflect on their service with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City.
Sara Hockett supported the IRC in Salt Lake City's New Roots program, helping increase the capacity to fulfill large wholesale produce orders and farmer's market logistics. Photo: Courtesy of Sara Hockett

Sara’s intelligence and flexibility help spread her deep compassion throughout all of her work. She grew up in the middle of Georgia, playing in the creek and canoeing with her grandmother. Five years ago, she moved to Utah to attend Brigham Young University where she studied political science, specifically around international strategy and diplomacy. “I'm passionate about human rights,” she says, “And the transitional justice process that occurs after mass conflicts and grave human rights abuses...” Sara is also concerned about body autonomy and wants to do work to destigmatize the conversation around sexual and domestic abuse.

This is her second summer as an AmeriCorps VISTA at the New Roots farm, a program she's followed since her semester abroad in Ecuador in 2017. “I loved the experience of being the Farm Summer Associate, because I got to learn a lot more about agriculture in a practical sense, be outside, meet some of the IRC's stellar clients, and I got to work with an amazing and talented team that really cherishes each other. So, I applied as an AmeriCorps VISTA again.” She helps prepare bulk produce orders for Whole Foods, assists at the farmer’s markets and supports the farmers in their needs. “I get excited when we fill big orders for Whole Foods, so I think I am most proud when the team (and the farmers) pulls off a big order. I really enjoy harvesting, it's relaxing to me, so I like that harvesting gets to be part of my job at times too.”

Sara plans to go back to school but because her interests cover a lot, she has decided to take time to think about the master’s program she wants to enter. “As far as career aspirations, I just want to help people become what they want to become for themselves. There are a lot of ways to do that and I am flexible and open to the possibilities.”

Willa Gibson, New Roots farmers market summer associate

Summer associates reflect on their service at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City.
Willa Gibson supported the IRC in Salt Lake City's New Roots farm incubator program by helping refugee farmers with the harvest and increasing outreach for the farmers' markets. Photo: Courtesy of Willa Gibson

Willa appreciates both creative downtime and outdoor recreation, and she is simultaneously laidback and dedicated to her work. She enjoys painting, hiking and running. Willa decided to become a summer associate because she has always been interested in the IRC and the mission of the organization. Her time as a volunteer supporting the front desk at the IRC in Salt Lake City helped drive her interest in becoming a summer associate. Plus, she wanted to work in an environment where she could spend a lot of time outside and wanted to learn more about working on a farm.

“I work on the New Roots farms twice a week, helping with harvest for CSA, weeding, and other projects that need to be done on the farm,” Willa shares. “The other days, I work on outreach for the markets, ordering and picking up the food pantry orders, and working at the markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Helping with the farmers market has been my main responsibility. It has been very cool to see the preparations for the market and seeing it grow in the past few weeks.”

After the summer is over, Willa plans to continue studying at the University of Utah as a sociology major in hopes of becoming a social worker after graduation.

Interested in joining the team at the IRC in Salt Lake City? Learn more and apply today by visiting Rescue.org/Careers.