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Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’

Photo: Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Volunteers try to find housing and employment opportunities for asylum seekers in Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville, Mass. Refugees have government-approved supports. Asylum seekers have nothing.

In the last couple years, since I’ve been volunteering in ESL classes, I have learned there is a differences between refugees, who arrive in this country fully vetted and eligible for official support, and asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers are generally fleeing persecution and danger. One woman I heard about knew that the government in her country intended to arrest her after disappearing her husband for his vocal opposition. When she arrived here, she had nothing.

Numerous groups of US citizens are now organizing to help such people.

Zipporah Osei reports at the Boston Globe, “With more attention than ever on the crisis and issues of immigration, Fowkes knew what he needed to do was to effect direct change. …

“Said Fowkes, “I wanted to do more than just mail a check to an organization. I wanted to have a hand in changing someone’s life.’

“Fowkes and his wife joined ArCS Cluster, a group of volunteers helping refugees and asylum seekers in Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville. The group started in the spring of 2016 as an arm of the Malden-based nonprofit Refugee Immigration Ministry, with a mission of helping through person-to-person connection

“Asylum seekers come to the United States to escape issues such as war, persecution, or domestic violence. Once here, they must apply for asylum and then wait at least five months to apply for a work permit.

“While they wait to be approved, individuals can lack access to medical care and face housing insecurity and social barriers that make the process even more difficult. The group attempts to make the transition as smooth as possible. …

“The cluster, which has over 250 members with roughly 50 active volunteers, provides services to asylum seekers from countries including Saudi Arabia, Libya, Liberia, and Rwanda. It is the first explicitly LGBT-friendly cluster in the Refugee Immigration Ministry. Although the cluster was formed out of First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington, all volunteers are welcome whether or not they are affiliated with any religious organization. …

“For many of the volunteers, the connections made with asylum seekers are long-lasting.

“ ‘I have so enjoyed forming relationships with these people. We develop friendships together,’ said [Sarah Trilling, co-coordinator]. …

“The cluster helps the asylum seekers in seemingly small ways as well. After finding out that one of their guests was uncomfortable taking the bus late at night, volunteers took turns driving her home from appointments.

“ ‘They support me morally and financially. This is a blessed group,’ she said of the coordinating team. ‘I love them for all they do.’

“Fowkes and his wife, who live in Medford, have been members of First Parish for more than 20 years. He recently retired and felt he had more time to invest in charity work. The experience of housing an asylum seeker has also had a positive impact on him.

“ ‘This kind of work suits me,’ said Fowkes. ‘You can do a small thing for a great many people or you can do a huge thing for one person, and I just know I’m making a tremendous impact on someone’s life.’

“The couple took in an asylum seeker who had been living on the street. The guest has been living with the pair for more than a year now. The three have dinner together every night, and the couple has introduced him to his family and friends. Fowkes said they have formed a deep connection.

“ ‘He introduces me to people as his American dad,’ said Fowkes.”

More.

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Photo: Elissa Nadworny/NPR  
Cathy Meaney (right), a volunteer with International Neighbors, has befriended an Afghan refugee family in Charlottesville, Va.

Here’s a story of how one person can make a big difference. The one person I’m thinking of is a teacher who started a nonprofit to help refugees in Virginia. After launch, there was another “one person” and another and another.

In fact, quite a few kind Virginians were concerned to learn that refugees have to start taking care of their own needs in 90 days — a nearly impossible task in a strange place where you don’t know the language.

Elissa Nadworny has a report at National Public Radio (NPR).

“Here’s a number: 90. That’s how many days most refugees arriving in this country have before the basic resettlement money they get from the government runs out.

“But once that three months is over, there are still so many things recent arrivals need. That’s what Kari Miller saw over and over as a teacher in the public schools in Charlottesville, Va.

“In her classes, students who had recently arrived in the U.S. as refugees were struggling with all kinds of problems, like serious dental issues, or a lack of winter clothes or just the challenge of adjusting to life and school in a new land and a strange language. …

“She asked her principal for permission to take children to clinics, to buy them winter coats, to go home and meet their families. … Seeing them every day at school gave her an idea: Connect these families to their Charlottesville neighbors.

“Working out of her garage, Miller started the nonprofit International Neighbors. That was two years ago, and the organization has now grown to more than 200 volunteers. Many of them work full-time jobs but are ready to jump in to help families in that crucial period after the government aid runs out. …

“There are so many questions: Where can I get a car? Is school closed today? How do I turn on my shower? And, please, help me fill out all this paperwork!

“Paperwork, that’s the real currency in the United States, says Liza Fields, a member of International Neighbors’ board. … Fields helps refugees fill out those many, many forms — mostly for medical care but also dental work, school needs and, of course, paying bills. …

“The No. 1 request refugees make of International Neighbors is for a car. That’s usually followed closely by another related request: driving lessons. The organization provides money for lessons. But some volunteers like Helga Hiss are willing and able to give lessons. That, says Kari Miller, is the sweet spot. …

“Last fall, Hiss started giving driving lessons to a woman named Neegeeta, who moved to Charlottesville with her family from Afghanistan about 2 1/2 years ago.

” ‘It was very, very difficult life,’ Neegeeta says as her 18-month-old son, Musadiq, crawls into her lap. She asked that we use only her first name in order to protect family members who remain in Afghanistan.

“That first year in the U.S. was so hard, Neegeeta says, that they thought about moving back to Afghanistan. She felt isolated. She was working on her English, taking care of her three children, and dependent on a bus transfer to get her to appointments. …

“But, month by month, things got better. Her husband got a good job. The family got a car. They moved into an apartment downtown.

“Neegeeta credits much of this newfound confidence to volunteers like Hiss, who she says helped her feel welcome as she drove around her new city, laughing — and praying — in Hiss’s Toyota Camry.

“Those lessons, Neegeeta says, changed everything. Gave her freedom.”

Read about the nonprofit’s varied programs — including the one that pairs Charlottesville and refugee families who have similar characteristics — at NPR, here.

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Photo: Elisa Coltro/Facebook
Nonna Irma, of Noventa Vicentian, Italy, poses with some of the children in the Kenyan orphanage she supports.

News outlets around the world reposted this story about a 93-year-old’s outreach work as described by her granddaughter on Facebook. But I found that BrightSide dug for additional details.

The website reports, “This charming woman from Noventa Vicentina, Italy is Irma, and she is 93 years old. Despite her age, she’s full of energy and desire to change the world for the better. She decided to fly to Kenya to help children in the orphanage there. Her granddaughter shared her grandma’s photos on her Facebook page, which took over the Internet. …

” ‘Irma has always loved life and was never stopped by life’s obstacles,’ her granddaughter [Elisa Coltro] wrote. She knows what difficulties are like and has always tried to help others. Irma lost her husband at 26 and later one of her three children. Her life has not been easy, and she has always relied on her own strength to make it through.

“Many years ago she met Father Remigio, a [missionary] who has spent his life helping the people of Kenya. Irma has supported him for many years. Once she heard that Father Remigio was hospitalized, she made a decision to visit him and all the places he had built during his lifetime, such as hospitals, orphanages and kindergartens.

“Now being in Kenya, Irma helps children as much as she can. She teaches English and Math in the school of Malindi. … Her age never stops her from taking motorcycle rides. Despite all the difficulties she’s faced, she continues to enjoy life. Irma plans to stay in Africa for a few weeks, but there is a possibility that she will want to stay there for good.

“She has always taught her children and grandchildren to help others. Her granddaughter Elisa did volunteer work in refugee camps in Greece in 2016 and 2017.” More here.

One of the things I like best about the story is the sense of a network of fellow travelers. Irma’s daughter went to Kenya with her. Her granddaughter volunteers. And zillions of people loved what Irma is doing enough to share the news on social media. One and one and 50 …

Photo: Elisa Coltro / facebook   

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Art: Jean-François Millet (1814-1875)
“The Gleaners, “1857

When farmers are done harvesting their crops, or when homeowners grow fruit trees for decoration but don’t eat the fruit, an opportunity arises for gleaners. Some gleaners may scavenge for food for their own tables, but nowadays it’s become more of an activity to feed people who need extra help. I blogged about the concept in 2011, here, and 2014, here.

A recent article by Henry Schwan in WickedLocal provides an update.

He writes, “Ruth Lyddy bent over and used a sharp farm tool to take a whack out of a thick stalk of kale at Barrett’s Mill Farm in Concord. Lyddy had the look of a full-time farmer, but she’s a volunteer gleaner, which is someone rescuing crops before they are plowed over and destroyed.

“She joined other volunteers Nov. 17 at Barrett’s Mill Farm in Concord, and their leader was Dylan Frazier, who works for Boston Area Gleaners, Inc. (BAG). …

“The nonprofit formed in 2004, and is in the midst of its ’10 Tons in 10 Days’ campaign. As the name says, the goal is to gather 10 tons of food in 10 days, which is distributed to local food pantries.

“Frazier said many farms only harvest what they can sell, so BAG swoops in, takes the excess and hands it over to Food For Free in Cambridge, which distributes it to local food banks and pantries. …

“The volunteers also harvested purple-top turnips, red beets, leaks, daikon radish and Savoy cabbage, and all of it was piled into a truck, paid for with a $25,000 grant from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation. …

“Volunteer John Pilch summed up why people give their time to BAG as he carried a box full of kale that he just cut. ‘It’s very grounding for me. I love to give back, because I’ve been so blessed in my life,’ Pilch said.”

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When I think of Russia and the words “big brother” together, I don’t ordinarily picture the charitable organization that partners adults with kids who need role models. Roman Sklotskiy has altered my mental model.

Last month, Diana Kultchitskaya interviewed Sklotskiy for the Christian Science Monitor.

“Roman Sklotskiy, a former businessman and a graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, didn’t dream of having a career in charity. In the early 2000s he was a pioneer in the telecommunications industry, testing applications for mobile networks.

“But then he was invited by a friend to be the administrator of a theater for deaf actors – a charity project launched by a group of professional actors and directors. He was so inspired by the experience that he decided to pursue charitable work.

“In 2007 he learned of a nonprofit group trying to bring a United States-based mentoring program to Russia. Big Brothers Big Sisters International is a volunteer program that helps orphans and children from troubled families find mentors who provide them with a role model and help them build a healthy relationship with an adult.

“In Russia this kind of volunteering was a new idea. Mr. Sklotskiy decided to join the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Russia team and became its director, spending six years developing it. …

“The selection process for people who would like to participate in Russia’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program is strict. … Those who are selected receive training. Psychologists work with them and explain the unique demands of communicating with an orphan. …

“Alexandr Gezalov, an expert on child adoption and orphanages, says that the project is very successful.

“ ‘I’ve never seen a more effective format for communicating with an orphaned child,’ Mr. Gezalov says. The success of Big Brothers Big Sisters should be shared with other organizations, he says.

“Today Sklotskiy serves as director of charitable programs at the RVVZ Foundation. But he’s stayed involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters as chairman of the board. And he thinks it still has great potential to grow and help even more children. Currently Big Brothers Big Sisters is operating in Moscow and St. Petersburg.”

More here.

Photo: Svetlana Balashova for the Christian Science Monitor
Roman Sklotskiy longed to do charitable work, and he found his calling in developing Big Brothers Big Sisters of Russia.

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The past couple holiday seasons, I’ve heard of acts of charity such as paying off a stranger’s layaway items. In November, a Minnesota couple deposited half a million dollars in a Salvation Army bucket.

As Lonnie Shekhtman notes at the Christian Science Monitor, “More than Black Friday or Cyber Monday, the Salvation Army’s iconic and ubiquitous red donation kettles, accompanied by bell-ringing volunteers, signify that the holiday season is upon us.

“This year, the century-old tradition got a major boost by an anonymous and unprecedented donation: a $500,000 check slipped into a kettle …

“This was the biggest single kettle donation ever deposited in a Salvation Army kettle in the Twin Cities, reported the Tribune

“In a statement from the donors the charity provided to the Tribune, the [donors] said they made the generous donation in honor of their father, who served in World War I and was grateful to Salvation Army volunteers who brought soldiers free coffee and doughnuts.

“The two also said they were inspired by challenges earlier in their lives that forced them to collect food discarded at a grocery store to feed themselves. …

“This was the same spirit that inspired Manhattan philanthropist Carol Suchman to buy an entire toy store and donate its contents to underprivileged children earlier [in November].

“The mother of three has preferred to donate anonymously in the past, but this year agreed to go public to inspire generosity in others.

” ‘I know everyone can use a gift around the holidays,” Ms. Suchman told the NY 1 News.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Ann Hermes/Christian Science Monitor
A Salvation Army donation kettle sits outside a shop on 5th Avenue in New York.

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What I liked about this story on rescuers in Iceland was how the volunteer tradition started when “women banded together and organized a rescue crew to curtail the loss of their men at sea.” The part that wasn’t so great was about tourists endangering everyone with harebrained feats for their bucket list.

Nick Paumgarten writes at the New Yorker, “Iceland, with a population of little more than three hundred thousand, is the only NATO country with no standing Army. It has police, and a coast guard, but these, like the citizens they are paid to protect, are spread thin, so come accident or disaster, disappearance or storm, the citizens, for the most part, have always had to fend for themselves.

“[Slysavarnafélagið Landsbjörg, or, in English, the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue] has evolved into a regimented volunteer system that serves as a peerless kind of national-emergency militia. It is not a government program, and so represents a tithing of manpower. There are close to ten thousand members in all, with four thousand of them on ‘callout’ duty, on ninety-seven teams. … They are well trained and well equipped, self-funded and self-organizing, and enjoy a near-mythical reputation among their countrymen, who, though often agnostic regarding the existence of elves and gnomes, are generally not inclined toward reverence or exaggeration. …

“Landsbjörg traces its roots back to the formation, in 1918, of a rescue team in the Westman Islands, an archipelago just off the southern coast. The women on shore banded together and organized a rescue crew to curtail the loss of their men at sea, and in time other fishing communities established similar groups and protocols. Eventually, the fishing industry, as it grew, supported these efforts with donations. On land, farmers, left to their own devices, looked after each other, as they will.” More at the New Yorker, here.

You may get a kick out of the fundraising based on selling fireworks. Setting them off is legal in Iceland once a year. “Last year, Icelanders blew up five hundred tons of fireworks.”

Photo: Benjamin Lowy / Getty Images for The New Yorker
“People think of the rescue teams as the Guardians of the Galaxy,” a mountain guide said. “They forget these are normal people.”

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