By Michal Petros
Living in the USA, particularly in the nation’s capital, provides endless opportunities to dedicate time and effort towards the refugee and asylee community. Over the summer, I was lucky to continue to contribute to this work as the Asylee Casework Intern with the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Kind, genuine and dedicated doesn’t begin to the scratch the surface of the IRC staff in Silver Spring. I had the privilege of witnessing and taking part in clients’ transition to the USA, and because of this, I can provide testament to the time and effort that caseworkers commit to each and every client.
The Casework Team works to ensure that clients receive the benefits and support that they need to acclimate to their new homes in the USA. My work often required working with the files of all IRC clients, but my supervisors’ direct clients were all asylees. New clients arrive to the IRC once they have been granted asylum, and the first thing that the Casework Team does is open a file on the share drive r with the client’s basic information. From there, the client makes appointments with our two asylee caseworkers in order to turn in documents such as asylum approval, social security cards, Medicaid, their lease, etc. We also sign them up for the appropriate cash assistance programs before sending them to our Employment Specialist Team.
Although work authorization cards come at varying times for different clients, sometimes taking over six months, our employment specialists prep our clients for their job search by sharing opportunities, creating or editing resumes and providing professional clothing for interviews. The IRC is also fortunate to share our office space with the Department of Social Services and have our office located down the street from the Medicaid office, as it makes applying for required documents easier for our clients.
In my internship, there was no average day at the office. The interdependence between the Casework Team and the rest of the office means that I was constantly interacting with people throughout the office and exchanging clients’ files as clients’ cases evolved to require assistance from different teams. In addition to filing and organizing cases, I entered clients’ information in the monthly report that was sent to the Maryland Office of Refugees and Asylees, called clients for appointments or documents, met with clients, and picked up shifts at the reception desk. My varied responsibilities gave me a more holistic view at how the IRC operates as well as strengthened my communication skills.
Another aspect of my internship that enhanced my experience was working under the leadership of black women. With the lack of gender and racial diversity in all work fields, it was amazing to have representation with the leadership in my office. Contributing to the vast diversity of the IRC office, my two supervisors were a Ivorian and Ethiopian woman, who served both as my leadership figures and role models. Representation was incredibly prevalent in my experience working for the IRC as my past experiences have not always enriched me in this way. This representation was both an empowering and rewarding experience, as I learned a lot through the times we shared our life experiences.
Working with a diverse group of people, dedicated to making a difference in clients’ lives, was easily the highlight of my summer (almost making me forget about the hour commute from Arlington to the office). This internship gave me unique views of an internationally acclaimed non-profit, while allowing me to contribute to the domestic scope of work. The office puts endless hours into making sure clients are on the right track to acclimating to their new homes and reaching the goals they have set for themselves. I feel incredibly lucky that I can’t think of a better internship I would have rather had this summer.