After years of living in DC, volunteers Meghan Hess and Ryan Carra were looking for a way to get involved with their new community in suburban Maryland. Through their involvement in the Family Mentor Program at the International Rescue Committee in Silver Spring, they’ve not only established a connection to their community but also made friends with a newly arrived refugee family from El Salvador. As Family Mentors, Meghan and Ryan meet with the family every week and assist with English practice, preparing for job interviews, and helping the family adjust to life here in the United States. While the six month program is a large commitment, it doesn’t deter Meghan and Ryan. “It doesn’t feel like a volunteer job,” says Meghan. “We just make our weekly plans to hang out with our new friends.”
The Family Mentor Program is a learning experience for everyone involved. Refugees learn about American culture and customs and advance their language skills. Volunteers gain knowledge of the specific issues impacting refugees in Maryland. “I’ve learned how totally essential English skills are to building a life in the United States. Refugees will struggle to feel at home until they can really feel comfortable with everyday interactions like talking to a cashier or making a business telephone call,” says Meghan.
Growing up in New Jersey, one of Meghan’s best friends was a refugee from Bosnia. Seeing how her best friend’s family both benefited and struggled with the opportunity to build a life in the United States is what sparked her interest in supporting refugee issues. As the Syrian refugee crisis made international headlines, Meghan and Ryan decided it was time to act. “I think both Ryan and I recognize that we come from places of immense privilege. That’s not the reality for most people on this planet, and it’s on us to put that good fortune to work to benefit other people.”
There are many ways you can give back and support refugees in Maryland. For more information about volunteer and internship opportunities at the International Rescue Committee in Silver Spring, contact Volunteer Coordinator Mark Youmans at Mark.Youmans [at] rescue.org.
Interested in becoming a family mentor? Contact Family Mentor Program Coordinator Samantha Musson at Samantha.Musson [at] rescue.org.