AmeriCorps Volunteers Turn Their Attention Toward Refugees

By Gabe Cahn,

Saba Al Tameemi came to Washington state with her husband and two children in October 2015. Just two months later, the 35-year-old Iraqi with a master’s degree in English and American Literature from the University of Baghdad began helping other newly arrived refugees achieve self-sufficiency.

“Helping refugees means helping my own family,” said Al Tameemi, who joined the staff of Jewish Family Service of Kent, Washington as an inaugural member of HIAS’ Refugee AmeriCorps program.

The program provides a track for AmeriCorps members to spend their year recruiting, training, and managing volunteers who provide services to vulnerable refugees resettled at 10 of HIAS’ 22 local resettlement partners. Many, though not all 10, are refugees themselves.

Assisting individuals and families who have just arrived in the United States brings a special level of satisfaction to Al Tameemi, who knows first-hand the challenges of adjusting to a new home and becoming independent.

“I feel so excited when I help refugee students get enrolled in school,” she explained. “Watching the happiness on their faces brings satisfaction and happiness to my heart, particularly with elementary school students.”

The Refugee AmeriCorps programs is designed to increase the overall capacity of the agencies in which they're placed. In the first year, the members have together recruited and managed more than 100 volunteers who assist in resettlement work through everything from supporting refugees in their employment endeavors, including job search and interview prep, to orientations for social integration and financial literacy. At Jewish Family Service of San Diego, a “Refugee Pals” program matches young refugee clients between the ages eight and 25 with college students for mentoring.

In total, nearly 300 refugee clients have received services through the HIAS Refugee AmeriCorps program so far.

Dipen Adhikari, 19, is a Refugee AmeriCorps member serving at the US Together agency in Columbus, Ohio. Like Al Tameeni, Adhikari came to this country as a refugee with his family, resettled to Columbus in 2008. After his year in AmeriCorps ends, he plans to enroll in college. He plans to study both science and math.

“As a former refugee, being able to assist new refugee population means giving back to the community that once helped me and my family to resettle in this country,” Adhikari said. “The most exciting aspect of my service has been the learning experience and being able to use my knowledge to assist venerable population in our community.”

Thanks to the success of the first group, HIAS announced approval and funding for a second year of the Refugee AmeriCorps program in June.

As HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield stated, “the Refugee AmeriCorps program has increased the capacity of HIAS to better serve new Americans who were rescued by the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.”

To learn more about HIAS’ work helping vulnerable refugees integrate in the United States, sign up to join our e-mail list.

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