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Tag: Volunteer story

Ladies Who Bring Lunch

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Around the International Institute of New England, Meg Glazer is known as the leader of the “Ladies Who Bring Lunch.” Since April, a group of eight to 10 women has volunteered their time once a month at Meg’s home to prepare and deliver culturally appropriate, packed lunches for 50 students attending English classes at IINE Boston.

In addition to providing meals, the women spend two hours during each visit in conversation with IINE beneficiaries, creating an opportunity for them to practice English. “Each meal, and each time we do this is different,” Meg said. “We never know how many people will show up, but we want to be there

All of the women are members of South Shore Action, a group of 250 individuals who came together following the 2016 election to focus on issues that mattered to them such as freedom of the press, healthcare, the environment, and civil rights. Meg serves as the Civil Rights Committee Chair. After the President issued the first travel ban, she helped shift the group’s focus to supporting immigrants and refugees.

Through social media and a conversation with another IINE volunteer, Meg found her way to the Institute’s Boston site office to understand what role the group could take in aiding the global refugee crisis. Together, the International Institute and South Shore Action developed “Meals and Conversation: Building Bridges and Breaking down Walls One Meal at a Time.” Many recently arrived refugees rely on cash assistance benefits and sometimes do not have enough money for healthy meals. This is particularly true in their earl months in the U.S. before they learn English and find their first jobs.

The opportunity to practice English and share a meal builds a personal bond between supporters from South Shore Action and the new Americans in our programming. “We want the refugee and immigrant clients to know that there are many people who are invested in helping them integrate into their new communities,” Meg explained.

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Fostering Friendships over Food

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IINE-Lowell and local community groups unite residents and newcomers at shared dinners.

On Jan. 24, 2017, Lowell community members and three newly- arrived Congolese families gathered for a meal at IINE-Lowell’s site office. The potluck meal was hosted by the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Khalil Abdo’s smile disguises the difficult journey that brought his family from Syria to Lowell, Massachusetts. In 2013, war and violence forced them to leave their homeland, and in 2016 they became some of the few Syrians granted resettlement in the U.S. When the family of seven arrived, Khalil knew little English and relied on interpreters to navigate his new surroundings. In Lowell he faced challenges as he adjusted to a new community, addressed urgent medical issues, and searched for employment. The first months for any refugee in the United States are challenging, yet can be eased by a warm welcome from new neighbors. Last summer, IINE-Lowell staff worked with community and faith groups to organize a series of welcome dinners for newly arrived refugees. Since the launch, 12 refugee families have participated in a welcome dinner, including the Abdo family who attended one hosted by IINE supporters in Andover, Mass.

Held in a local hall, the space was brightly decorated and an array of ethnic and traditional American foods was available for all to enjoy. The dynamic at each welcome dinner is slightly different. When a group of professors hosted Congolese families recently, the hosts and their guests spontaneously broke out in African dancing. At another dinner, the group discussed shared interests and cultural traditions. In Andover, Khalil and his wife and children practiced English and Arabic words with their new friends over chocolate cake.

Welcome dinners are easy to organize, and their impact is enduring. Through the relationships formed, refugees secure play dates for their children, learn about job opportunities, and get insights on the American healthcare system and culture. At the same time, families such as Khalil’s share the experience of their journey with their hosts. This gives American families an intimate perspective on the global refugee crisis. At the end of dinner in Andover, Khalil surprised the organizers by sharing that the evening was his sixth-month anniversary in the U.S. Smiling, he told the group, “This is the first night in the country where I only feel joy, only joy. Thank you.”

Many of these welcome dinners are hosted by Resettle Together volunteers, a growing network of community partners who help refugee families rebuild their lives in New England.  They also provide immediate and long-term support to refugees and immigrants on the road to self-sufficiency. If you’re interested in becoming a Resettle Together partner, contact Cheryl Hamilton at chamilton@iine.org.

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Volunteer Highlight

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Louisa French, Resettlement and Employment Training Volunteer, IINE-Lowell

Over the past five years, Louisa French has volunteered at the International Institute of New England’s Lowell site office in nearly every capacity. From organizing in-kind donations to setting up newly-arrived families’ apartments, she plays a significant role in welcoming newcomers to Lowell.

Louisa’s personal interest in humanitarian work stems from her time providing policy guidance to third-world nations at the Harvard Institute for International Development. This interest led her to the Institute where she supports refugee resettlement, case management, and cultural orientation programs. Leveraging 15 years of experience as a Human Resources professional, Louisa teaches a weekly employment readiness class known as the “Job Club,” which is held every Friday. During these sessions, Louisa educates predominately Swahili and Arabic speaking clients on interviewing, time management, industry-specific vocabulary, administrative tasks, and U.S. labor laws. In addition to providing practical job readiness skills, the course gives clients an extra opportunity to practice English.

Louisa finds volunteering deeply gratifying and enjoys seeing clients progress through the Institute’s services.

“Learning English is the key to success. It allows for greater integration into American society and opens doors to future opportunities.

In the first six months of the fiscal year that began on October 1, 2016, over 200 people have volunteered at the Institute, contributing nearly 13,000 hours of service to the Institute’s refugee and immigrant clients. The generosity of volunteers like Louisa is critical to the Institute’s work of helping new Americans contribute to their new communities.

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