U.S COMMITTEE FOR REFUGEES AND IMMIGRANTS
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International Volunteer Day 2023 “If Everyone Did”

By USCRI December 5, 2023

International Volunteer Day is an annual celebration of volunteers worldwide. This year’s theme is “If Everyone Did”, where we are invited to imagine the power of 8 billion volunteers working together to foster inclusive, peaceful, and sustainable communities. 

This year, we want to highlight two incredible volunteers from our Raleigh, North Carolina office, Marci Curtis and Amy Blackwell, who have both worked with USCRI for over five years and have helped so many become a part of the Raleigh community. We at USCRI could not do what we do without the work of volunteers like Marci and Amy, who have been welcoming refugees and immigrants into their communities for over five years. 

Marci Curtis has been teaching ESL courses for over six years. For recent arrivals, the language barrier can be one of the most difficult things to overcome. These classes were originally in person, but when the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to stay home, USCRI started collaborating with Welcome House to provide online classes. Now, the Raleigh office, in partnership with Welcome House and Raleigh Parks and Recreation, offers a combination of online and in-person classes, many of which are taught by volunteers like Marci. 

 

International Volunteer Day 2023 “If Everyone Did”

Amy Blackwell has long been interested in learning about other cultures and supporting people as they gain the skills they need to success. While working with the Peace Corps in South Africa, she was encouraged to work with USCRI has been working with us ever since. She supports USCRI’s volunteer recruitment and currently works in the office doing paperwork, providing resources for new arrivals, driving people to appointments, and so much more. 

 

Q: “Why do you think this work is important?”

Marci: “I think it’s very important to reach outside our own bubble of language and culture to create connections and create a wider community. It’s important for those of us who have lived in comfort and in a country that hasn’t known war or famine to help be a part of building a community.” 

Amy: “Because you may work with someone who has no experience and no resources, or one that had a good job, but just lost it and lost their environment. You can make a difference in all their lives in small ways, and sometimes in big ones, by providing them with something, pointing a resource out to them, or just driving them somewhere.” 

 

Q: What challenges have you encountered doing this work? 

Marci: “It’s a little scary when they say you’re going to work with a family, and you don’t speak their language and they don’t speak yours. There’s a fear about how you are going to be able to communicate and beyond just the language barrier, there’s also a cultural barrier. What if I do something that doesn’t respect their culture? But I learned that the people we meet are very understanding. There are also many ways to communicate: Pantomime, pictures, Google Translate, or just smiling and laughing while you are trying to figure something out. You can figure it out as you go along.”

Amy: “Sometimes you have to help people understand that you can do a lot with your hands, and nowadays you can do a lot with Google Translate.” 

 

Q: What do you feel are your greatest successes as a volunteer? 

Marci: “Teaching English is a slow process, so it’s a success if somebody gets a job. Or when you meet them later and they speak well enough in English to talk to you. I recently had someone say: ‘I still dream about those first days. When I came here and remember that feeling of being here and being safe and welcome.’” 

Amy: “Engaging my church and helping USCRI has been pretty successful. It’s all about helping.” 

 

Q: What advice would you give to those who want to start volunteering? 

Marci: “Even if you can’t communicate as well as you’d like, people are still happy to make that connection. It’s about making the effort to make somebody feel welcome” 

“Start small. Right now USCRI is having a coat drive where you adopt a family, and you buy or collect coats and take them to their home. It’s a small start. Maybe you’ll meet the family and make friends with them, and maybe you won’t, but if you do it enough, it becomes comfortable. You don’t have to jump in on your own. Ask for help if you’re not sure what to do because somebody will help you; we’re an inclusive community, so we’re willing to help.” 

Amy: “Be open minded, talk to others who are doing it. Don’t have any expectations, except that these are people who deserve to have a good life and do what you can do to help them do that. Use your own resources, even if that’s just talking; you don’t have to have a lot of money to be a successful volunteer. You do have to be compassionate, be a good listener, be a good observer, but it’s not difficult. Mistakes will be made and that’s fine, it’s all going in the right direction.”

 

 

Reach out to your local office below for more information on getting involved.

Albany- [email protected]

Cleveland- [email protected]

Colchester- [email protected]

Des Moines- [email protected]

Dearborn-  [email protected]

Erie- [email protected]

Raleigh: [email protected]

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