Helping Local Refugees Through USCRI
Giving back to the communities we serve is very important at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A. – both to our firm as an organization and to the individuals who make up our team of attorneys and staff members.
One shining example of our staff’s commitment to helping people in the Triangle is Karen Holland’s deep involvement with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). Karen, a paralegal at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., has been working with the organization since July 2015. Volunteering at USCRI is a family affair for Karen and she is often joined by husband, two teenage daughters and mother-in-law.
“There is so much in the news about this great refugee crisis,” Karen says. “You can feel overwhelmed by how much you cannot do to change it. Instead, it has been wonderful to find these small ways in which we can make a difference to an individual or family. It is also great to work with a firm that sees making a difference and caring for others as a priority.”
Getting Settled and Learning the Language
USCRI assists refugees as they settle into their new homes. Some of the services they provide include help with housing, job training and placement, English as a second language (ESL) courses, and other assistance designed to help refugees acclimate to life in the United States.
Karen and her family work primarily with the ESL program. The program provides free English language instruction, along with childcare for young parents who would find it difficult to attend otherwise. “We assist the lead teacher and if children come with their parents, I usually help keep them occupied,” Karen says. “This class is especially important to the mothers with young children because the ESL program at Wake Tech doesn’t offer childcare.”
The ESL classes are made up of a different group of students each week, and the students often represent a number of nationalities who speak different native languages. Class sizes can range from three to 25 students.
The subject matter focuses on terms and phrases that will be helpful when shopping, getting around town, trying to meet new people or seeking help with an injury or illness. Karen reports that some of the students are not able to read and write in their native language, and take great pride learning to write their name for the first time ever.
“All the students are eager to learn and excited to be there,” Karen says. “Providing this class is a way to make them feel welcomed and to help them be prepared to live daily in a new country. All of the students’ confidence grows in this program.”
A New Place to Call Home
Karen and her family first became involved with USCRI through their work with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) field personnel Kim and Marc Wyatt. Through their work at USCRI and CBF, the Wyatts created Welcome House, which provides temporary housing for refugees before their permanent home is available.
Welcome House has already served around 90 refugees since it opened in October 2015. Most of the residents stay in the facility for a few days or a few weeks until they are able to move into permanent housing. The group is working to open a similar facility in Durham that will be called Hope House.
Karen and her family have assisted Welcome House by giving tours of the facility, making people aware of the program and securing donations. Their church has also provided backpacks full of school supplies to newly arrived refugee children. “This helps them feel prepared and less out of place when starting school,” Karen says.
In late July of this year, staff members at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., spent a weekend helping set up a furnished home for a young refugee family arriving from the Republic of Congo. Working together, they gathered any items the family, which consists of a husband, wife and their young daughter, would need to settle into their new home.
“We have met so many wonderful people with amazing stories,” Karen says. “Working with this program definitely not only makes you appreciate all you have, but provides great education about why we should be accepting of other people and cultures, especially those seeking security.”
How to Get Involved
If you are interested in helping refugees in the area by donating goods, volunteering, becoming a landlord, working or volunteering for the organization, or contributing in other ways, check out the website of USCRI’s Raleigh Field Office.
Karen also notes that another way to get involved is to provide transportation for refugee families to places like doctor’s appointments and other events they need to attend. This an important way her father-in-law provides assistance and is so helpful to the families involved in the program.