Averil Loucks is a study in contrasts: She’s devoted to Colorado while demonstrating a global perspective. She’s patient but strives for results. And she knows the world is a difficult place, yet that makes her more determined to make it better.
She was one of the first employees hired when the IRC in Denver office opened in the fall of 2016. Initially, Averil served as the Public Benefits Coordinator where she helped clients apply for and receive benefits for which they are eligible, like food stamps, cash assistance and Medicaid.
Today, Averil serves as an Immigration Specialist at the Denver office. She assists clients in an array of general immigration services, including applying for citizenship, adjusting their in-country status to become Lawful Permanent Residents—often referred to as a green card holder—applying for travel documents, like a passport, and applying for family reunification.
In both her previous and current positions, Averil acknowledges and accepts the challenging realities for the immigrant population the IRC serves, balancing patience with tenacity on their behalf.
Q: What’s your back story?
A: I was pretty much raised in Colorado and knew I wanted to return. It just took me a while to get back here.
Early on, I knew my work would involve global travel and humanitarian service. So, it’s not surprising that my undergraduate degree is in International Relations, and my master’s degree is in International Public Health—both from Boston University. As an undergrad, I interned with the United Nations Development Program in Niger, and while in graduate school, I interned with an organization in France that worked in conflict-affected countries such as Sudan, Angola, East Timor and Sri Lanka. All of these international educational experiences strengthened my interest in global humanitarian work.
Q: What motivated you to become involved in immigration and, specifically, refugee resettlement?
A: Studying complex humanitarian emergencies and conflict-affected geographies set the stage for my early grant management positions in several non-governmental organizations (NGOs). I worked for Comité d’Aide Medicale (CAM), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the Mission d'Aide au Développement des Economies Rurales (MADERA), which took me to Sudan, Thailand, Afghanistan and back to Sudan. Each of these NGOs had programs to support conflict-affected populations, such as refugees and I knew that if I were to come back and work in the USA, I would want to continue that work in some capacity.
Q: What drew you to the IRC?
A: I was familiar with the IRC’s global presence from my international work. When I learned that the IRC was establishing an office in Denver at the same time, I was interested in returning to Colorado, it was a perfect match.
Q: What is your favorite part of your job?
A: Like my IRC colleagues, I love working with our clients. Especially after devoting my early career to grant management, where I didn’t have direct contact with clients. I enjoy observing their progress—from arriving in Colorado to applying for citizenship. Their stories are simply inspiring.
Q: And, of course, the flip side. What do you find most challenging in your job?
A: Everything in immigration takes so long. Applying for Lawful Permanent Residency can take eight to 12 months; family reunification can take years. We submit the proper documentation and wait. And then, we wait some more. It is rarely possible to track our submissions or get updates. Learning to be patient is today’s reality.
Q: How do you help IRC clients manage the wait time and uncertain outcomes?
A: They are better at it than I am! We talk about the process up front so they understand the steps in the process and set the expectation that it will take a long time. And…then the green card arrives in the mail! Or the travel documents are in my hands to deliver to them. Or they get a notification that their family members are approved to come to the United States! These documents can truly make a difference in their employment and overall quality of life. I hear the joy in their voice or see the smile on their face. The long wait and uncertainty become worth it.
Q: And the question our IRC staff often are reluctant to answer: what is an accomplishment you are most proud of?
A: That’s a tough question. It requires reflection, and I don’t spend much time on reflection. I will say that one skill I can bring to my clients is understanding their context. A lot of my travel and work helps me understand our clients better. I have experienced living in war-torn countries. I have seen the consequences of war for people. These experiences help me understand where our clients have lived and what they have survived.
Q: Now, any easy question: what is the perfect start to a weekend for you?
A: Any time I am heading up to the mountains will be a perfect weekend. It will include biking—both mountain and road biking—and hiking. I particularly enjoy the Keystone/Summit County area.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I try not to think too far ahead. Right now, I am operating within today’s realities. In the bigger picture, I am trying to make the world a better place—day by day.
By Karen Larsen, communications volunteer at the IRC in Denver