Do you remember when news of the Syrian refugee crisis dominated the news a few years ago? Refugee Services volunteer Aleisha does. She had recently left her work with victims of domestic violence to stay home with her son and was looking for a way to make a difference in her corner of the world. The news about refugee families fleeing resonated deeply with her and she was determined to do something. Traveling overseas to help wasn’t a possibility for her, so Aleisha found a way to be involved locally through MCC Refugee Services.
One of Aleisha’s first volunteer experiences was helping set up the apartment for a newly arriving family. She remembers the experience with a sense of awe. Even though she never met them, she still thinks about the grandmother and her two grandchildren who made that apartment home. Aleisha loved putting away dishes and making beds, knowing that a family who had fled such difficult circumstances as refugees would now have their own home, with soap, dishes, and the necessities of life.
Aleisha was then matched as a Befriender, helping welcome a Somali mother and her teen son who was just a few years older than Aleisha’s own son. Our then volunteer coordinator, Melody Ward, warned her during the volunteer orientation that there would be awkward moments in the process of befriending a new refugee, but that it was worth pushing through the discomfort to build a friendship. “She was right,” Aleisha recalled. There were awkward moments, but she is so glad that she persisted and remembers warmly the experience of befriending this delightful family. One afternoon, Aleisha had the opportunity to bring her son and refugee teen friend to the zoo and was encouraged to see the two boys connect over a shared experience. Aleisha’s son still asks about this boy and the experience has opened up new ways for her and her son to talk about the world, culture, and current events in a way that is grounded in people and relationships.
Aleisha now serves as an Immigration Services Intern, providing critical assistance to our accredited immigration staff as they help families apply for Green Cards (permanent residency status) and US Citizenship. Former refugees have the opportunity to apply for Green Cards after 1 year in the US and citizenship after 5 years. As soon as she arrives on Wednesday mornings, she sits down with a family and dives into applications. For each family member, there is an average of 18 pages of documentation and she needs to verify that they’ve brought along exactly the correct paperwork from home. With a large family, that’s a lot of paperwork to be copied, filled out, checked, and filed, especially when there may also be a language barrier!
Immigration services work brings a different kind of satisfaction than other volunteer experiences. There are fewer opportunities to share stories, but Aleisha has the opportunity to hear about the hard-won achievements of families who have been in the US for a few years. Recently, she met with a woman applying for citizenship who was a midwife in Togo and is now working as a nursing assistant in Minnesota. She’s made plans to go back to school for an RN program next year and shared pictures of her two daughters, one of whom is studying at Hamline University and the other in high school. The woman’s quiet strength made a deep impression on Aleisha. She’s had a chance to see firsthand what these mountains of sometimes tedious paperwork mean to people—hope, stability, and belonging. For some former refugees, this may be their first opportunity to hold citizenship in any country, and it’s incredibly meaningful.
MCC Refugee Services is deeply grateful to Aleisha and the many volunteers who make the work of welcoming refugees to Minnesota possible. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, we invite you to get in touch!
Recent executive orders blocking and reducing refugee arrivals have significantly impacted our funding. We continue to welcome refugees and are committed to serving those who have already arrived with employment services, connection to health care and social services, and assistance with obtaining permanent residency and US citizenship. Please donate today to keep our services strong.
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The executive orders blocking refugee admissions and the subsequent legal challenges to those orders have continued to make news headlines and create uncertainty about refugee resettlement in the US. For updates on the situation, we recommend that you follow our national partner Episcopal Migration Ministries on Facebook.
From October 2016 through September 2017, we welcomed 316 refugees. We welcomed 13 new arrivals in April and are hoping to welcome 26 individuals in May.