Each year, the International Institute serves thousands of refugee, asylee, and immigrant families through our many supportive services. Nearly every IINE program depends on volunteers to deliver the quality support our students and clients deserve. IINE staff often remark that “we couldn’t do it” without the amazing corps of dedicated volunteers.
IINE volunteers consistently go above and beyond what we ask of them. During National Volunteer Week (April 19-25), we want to recognize the contributions these individuals have made in the lives of our clients. Especially during this time of increased instability, distance, and uncertainty, our volunteers have committed to supporting our clients and helping IINE carry out our core programming. Here are just a few examples of extraordinary volunteer activities:
Lowell Youth Mentors are doing everything that they can to support their mentees remotely during this uncertain time. This past week, they worked with IINE staff to organize a group “gathering” which brought together many of the mentors and mentees via Zoom. The session was equal parts uplifting and informative and provided an important outlet for everyone to connect.
In the transition to remote English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes, program managers knew they could lean on a corps of veteran volunteers to support clients through their distance learning. In what has become the “new normal,” Education Manager, Sherry Spaulding connects each student with an individual volunteer via WhatsApp, and then volunteer and student go through his/her individual materials and lesson plans. Many Lowell students are at beginning literacy level, and have limited technology skills, which makes the transition to remote learning particularly challenging, but IINE volunteers are committed to supporting their continued education during this time.
For the past three years, a rotating group of 150 volunteers have provided quarterly lunches and monthly snacks to 120 IINE students in Boston. With the public health crisis preventing any of those activities from taking place, the volunteer leaders of the Meals & Conversation and Student Snack programs were searching for a way to support students from afar. The team of volunteers decided to reach out to their large volunteer base, and appeal for cash donations in lieu of the donations of time and food supplies that would normally be given in March, April, and May. Together they raised more than $1,000 to directly help immigrants and refugees who are struggling to pay for food and necessities. Those funds have since been transferred into grocery store gift cards for students and clients to use.
In our Manchester, NH office, volunteers support adult students in and out of the ESOL classroom, provide home furnishings and welcome kits to newly arriving refugee families, and donate clothing to our clients in the frigid New Hampshire winters. IINE’s Manchester office often welcomes large refugee families from Africa and Asia; families who have smooth transitions to New Hampshire in a large part due to the commitment and support of our volunteers.
Although they are counted upon every day in nearly every program IINE operates, we couldn’t ever imagine how these extraordinary times would be met with the enthusiastic generosity of our volunteers. How very appropriate that Volunteer Appreciate Week has arrived just when we want to say, THANK YOU, to the people on whom we continue to depend.