Never Settle: One Story of Finding Better Ways to Serve New Arrivals

This reflection comes from Francesca Sifferlin, our Refugee AmeriCorps member this year. She took over our already robust new arrivals orientation class, looking for ways to improve the curriculum and make it more accessible to new arrivals.

As my year of service as a Refugee AmeriCorps member at MCC comes to an end, I’ve been reflecting on what we have accomplished. The creation and launch of our In-Home Intensive Cultural Orientation (ICO) classes has been a rewarding highlight.

MCC’s Intensive Cultural Orientation (ICO) workshops empower newly arrived refugees by providing them with the education, skills, and resources they need to succeed and attain self-sufficiency in Minnesota. Typically, students attend a 3-week classroom-based workshop that covers the topics of transportation, safety, health, education, immigration, financial literacy, renter’s education, home orientation, and job readiness. In order to expand the accessibility of these workshops and ensure everyone can participate, we developed a version of the curriculum that can be presented in refugees’ homes and trained a team of passionate and dedicated volunteer teachers.

I recently asked one of our In-Home teachers, Annie, why she volunteered. “I just want new Minnesotans to feel welcome here,” she said. “I love learning more about the people I’m presenting to, where they’ve come from, and what they strive for being new to this country.” Another In-Home ICO teacher, Charlie, added that he, “has been impressed, not only by the courage of the refugee families I have worked with, but the passion to learn and the desire to have success in this country.” He went on to say, “This is a special privilege for me to be welcomed into each home I have visited, and experience the warmth, friendliness and joy with everyone.” Many of our volunteers express similar sentiments, and we are fortunate to have them.

Our In-Home classes have successfully enabled us to provide vital ICO education for all of our clients. Annie states that, “I think being in their home with [them] provides a sense of openness to ask questions, gain clarity, or go more in-depth depending on the topic. It is customizable to the participants and has taught me things I didn’t know either!” Many of our In-Home ICO volunteers have expressed a greater awareness of the refugee experience in our community, and an increased understanding of all that goes into navigating new and complex health, housing, education, and employment systems. Charlie summed up his experience by saying, “Bottom line is, I have enjoyed each student I have met and think about them often, hoping for their success.”

Yesterday, I taught an In-Home ICO class for a newly-arrived Karen family. The class took place at the home of the grandparents, with whom the family is now reunited with after 10 years. With three generations of the family gathered together in the living room, we reviewed the curriculum and the grandparents added to the class by sharing stories and offering advice to their newly-arrived family members like, “don’t forget that the bus doesn’t give you change when you pay!” The family took meticulous notes in their notebooks and shared their excitement about starting school soon and exploring Minnesota with their co-sponsor team. I’m so thankful for experiences like these and having the opportunity to laugh and learn together with new members of our Minnesota community.

For more information about volunteering in this role, please click here!

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