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The JFCS Refugee Resettlement Program – A Volunteer’s Story

JFCS refugee client taking English Placement test

As a faculty member at the University of Arizona, summer is the perfect time for me to get caught up on projects that I have set aside during the school year, and to do things that I enjoy. As the semester was winding down in May, my husband and I attended an event hosted by Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) at the Tucson Botanical Gardens where I first learned about the impressive work that they were doing to welcome refugees to Tucson and help in their resettlement.

The words of Christian Hirwa, Program Manager for Refugee Resettlement at JCFS, moved me as he told us about the fifty refugees that they have helped to resettle, and the hundred more that they were anticipating would arrive in Tucson in the upcoming months. Christian is a refugee from Rwanda, and several other staff members are also refugees, which brings a uniquely informed perspective regarding their needs.

When I returned home, I sat down in front of my computer and went to JFCS’s website to see how I might get involved in the refugee resettlement program. I filled out a volunteer interest form, and I heard back from Nathan Fenoglio, the Volunteer and Housing Coordinator, the next day who let me know about an upcoming volunteer orientation session.

My husband and I attended Refugee Resettlement 101 in-person while some volunteers joined us via Zoom. At this volunteer orientation, I discovered that JFCS’s resettlement efforts were being supported by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) which I was familiar with, as I am on their e-mail list. I learned about both direct and indirect service opportunities. These depend on whether volunteers would like in-person interactions with the client to facilitate their resettlement, or whether they would prefer to support the resettlement effort behind the scenes. I let Nathan know that both types of opportunities interested me.

A few days later Nathan contacted me to ask if I would like to shop for groceries and household items for a refugee who would be arriving from Afghanistan, and I was happy to help. My son Elliot was home from college, so I recruited him to help me. We went to JFCS to get the shopping lists from Nathan, and he walked us through the process. I appreciated the kindness and cultural sensitivity displayed by the refugee resettlement staff. They assured us that the items we would be shopping for were familiar to someone from Afghanistan.

We stopped by Babylon Market to purchase some specialty food items. It was our first time shopping there and it was an enjoyable experience. After we had purchased all the items on the list, we went to the apartment into which the refugee client would be moving. Elliot and I met up with Nathan and another volunteer there and we put away the groceries and household items and made the bed with new bedding. The other volunteer had brought a pot of flowers that she placed on the kitchen table. It was the perfect touch to welcome this man to Tucson. Then the four of us went to lunch and we talked about our backgrounds and what motivated us to get involved in helping to resettle refugees.

The client was welcomed by a JFCS staff member upon his arrival in Tucson and driven to his new home where he was helped to settle in. About a week after his arrival, Elliot and I were able to meet him at his new apartment. We helped assist him in enrolling in an English as a second language course. We had lunch together at an Indian restaurant and were able to chat with this young man about his life in Afghanistan and his journey to get to Tucson. I was quite impressed with his positive attitude, his kindness, his motivation, his intelligence, and his diverse skill set. We enjoyed spending time with him and getting to know him better. He is a valued and valuable member of our community, and he is enthusiastic about his life in Tucson. I feel fortunate to have been a member of team that helped him get settled in his home here.

If you would like to learn more about JFCS’s Refugee Resettlement Program and how you can get involved, please click here.

Dana Narter is a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona. She enjoys spending time with her family and exploring the Sonoran Desert.

Note: The viewpoints and opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of JFCS.