For National Volunteer Week, Recognizing Those Helping Refugees

By Gabe Cahn,

For National Volunteer Week, Recognizing Those Helping Refugees

Volunteers from HIAS affiliate US Together and Epworth Furniture Ministry help move a donated couch to an apartment for a newly arrived Syrian refugee family in Toldeo, Ohio, October 2015.

(Christie Materni/HIAS)

HIAS, like so many nonprofit and mission-driven organizations, relies on a dedicated network of volunteers to sustain our work and to amplify our impact on the ground in local communities.

Whether it’s an attorney offering pro-bono services to help win asylum for a HIAS client, or a local volunteer teaching financial literacy classes to resettled refugees, individuals who share a commitment to welcoming and protecting refugees and asylum seekers are an invaluable piece of our work.

“These are people who feel compelled to give back, especially to a population which so many in the Jewish community identify so strongly with” said Hadas Yanay, volunteer coordinator for HIAS New York.

“In honor of National Volunteer Week—a special opportunity each year to thank volunteers who lend themselves to support causes they care about—we wanted to recognize some of the incredible people who are sharing their time and talent,” she added.

Volunteer-coordinated efforts can be big and small, from a community coming together to raise thousands of dollars to support refugees or assist a refugee family as they settle into their new homes, to helping recently arrived refugees celebrate their first Thanksgiving in the United States.

Just last month, two parents who are members of the “Mitzvah Committee” at their children’s Jewish Community Center in Tarrytown, New York, joined forces to coordinate a backpack and donation drive for HIAS New York clients. The committee organizes school-wide events every year designed to help give back and also actively involve the early childhood education students, who range from ages two to four.[[{"fid":"2884","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"default","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"style":"border-width: 1px; border-style: solid; margin: 5px; width: 320px; height: 240px; float: right;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"1"}}]]

Sarah Stern and Shara Steinberg, who helped organize the drive, saw it as “a meaningful way of teaching ideas about inclusion, community and helping those in need,” especially at a time when the global refugee crisis was so prominently on the minds of parents in the community.

“From a personal perspective, I talked to my own children about our family history as Jews fleeing religious persecution in Eastern Europe,” explained Stern. “I asked them to imagine if we had to leave everything behind and go live in a different country. How would they hope people would behave towards them?”

Ultimately, the backpacks and other donated items were distributed to grateful HIAS clients in the New York City area.

“Showing support for refugees through indirect service such as the backpack drive is a critical way to not only help meet the needs of refugees, but to bring together and engage community members in support of refugee resettlement more broadly,” said Yanay.

Yanay noted that many volunteers she has worked with have shared stories of their own family members who were resettled by HIAS, “their commitment to paying it forward by helping refugees in whatever way they can is deeply personal.”

To learn more about volunteer opportunities with HIAS, visit

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