Adjusting to a new culture and set of expectations is often difficult for anyone anywhere. Our refugee clients are asked to do just that, though, every day.
As our Refugee Services Volunteer Specialist, I connect refugee clients with people in the Nashville community who are driven, in a special way, to want to work with our clients to help them succeed with their transitions.
This process involves matching clients and volunteers, primarily based on availability and location, to ensure that both client and program needs are met. Additionally, I have developed new programming to promote awareness of refugee issues, provide training to our volunteers, manage donation drives, and track monthly volunteer hours.
My goal has always been to offer opportunities fostering awareness and trust between the refugee community and Nashvillians. Creating a volunteer-client bond fits together with the rest of our department's mission; it provides our clients with much-needed stability, support and empowerment, all of which are vital for them to find employment and to feel secure in their new community.
One exciting outcome of the strong community support we have for refugees was the development and implementation of our new Refugee Team Mentoring Program. Developing this program -- bringing pre-formed area social, civic, and religious groups together and partnering them with newly-arrived refugee families -- has, by far, been my greatest accomplishment since joining Catholic Charities in September.
As I approach the end of my one-year term of service with Catholic Charities, I have come to realize that the best part of my job has been hearing from our volunteers about their experiences with our refugee families and how their views have broadened. It is amazing to see their journey and what they have accomplished.
One of my volunteers has developed such a close helping relationship with one of our Burmese families over the past year that they asked her to name their new daughter and serve as the child's godmother!
I am constantly in awe at the amount of time and dedication our volunteers, community members and my coworkers have for our clients and their level of encouragement in helping them reach self-sufficiency. Whether it is providing afterschool help to our youth or fostering a newfound friendship with a refugee elder, Catholic Charities is always there to help.
My AmeriCorps VISTA service here has truly been wonderful because it has pushed me personally and taught me so much more about social services than I could ever imagine.
Anneke Valk has served as Volunteer Specialist with our Refugee Services team this year, through the AmeriCorps VISTA program. She will be ending her service to us later this month. Anneke has a Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) from the University of Texas/Austin.
If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities supporting our Refugee Service clients and staff, click here.