Volunteer Highlight: Steve Follett, USCRI Vermont.

By USCRI June 21, 2024

Hello, my name is Steve Follett and I’ve been a volunteer with USCRI Vermont in Rutland since 2022. I was introduced to USCRI through some mutual friends with Jennie Gartner, the Community Engagement Coordinator, after years of local refugee advocacy work. Now I support our local refugee families here in Rutland as a Family Friend and enjoy the sometimes hectic, marvelous whirlwind of activity that goes into cleaning, furnishing, and preparing an apartment for a new refugee family who may have been waiting for years to find a new home.

The feeling of being part of a community welcoming new neighbors is a tremendous pleasure. I’d recommend it to anyone with time and energy to spare. While Jennie and her staff handle the vexing details of school registration, medical attention, bank accounts, etc., an enthusiastic crew of volunteers sets about preparing the apartment. My fellow volunteer Matt pulls up with a pickup and trailer full of furniture and several of us try to jockey a large sofa through the front door. Another longtime supporter Wilfredo helps unload, while Clare, Chip, Jo, and Carolyn get busy making beds and filling cupboards and drawers with the needs of daily life. Some volunteers shop for culturally appropriate groceries (not an easy task in Vermont) to stock the fridge and pantry. My friend and fellow volunteer, Ila, will often prepare a welcoming meal of familiar foods.

You don’t need special skills to do this. If you have willing hands you’ll find yourself with a full heart. My household skills are limited, but I can move furniture, wash windows, or replace a broken cabinet hinge. But these few simple things bring a huge reward. Which brings me to a little story, an example of the kind of rewards that come with volunteering for USCRI Vermont.

The only real talent I can claim is for repairing bicycles. But happily, many of the people we resettle are glad to have a bike. With fixed-up, donated bikes, we can put car-less people on wheels. Many of the bikes are donated by Johnson & Sons Bikeworks in Hampton, VT, so a big thank you to the owner Tim.

I had just dropped off some repaired bikes to a newly-arrived family. Several of the kids, including the youngest (a bubbly girl about 7 years old), jumped on their bikes and rode away down the street.

I stowed the bike carrier, got in my car, and headed home. On the way I passed the family happily pedaling along. I slowed down and waved. As I went by, the little girl bringing up the rear, gave me a big grin and a thumbs-up. What a great feeling!

One of the other things that keeps me volunteering for USCRI Vermont: demographics. Vermont, along with the rest of the country, is going grey. We’re an aging population. Our declining birth rate is barely enough to maintain our current population. We need young workers with growing families to keep the wheels of our society humming. Fortunately for us, people like this are willing to undergo incredible hardship to get here and partake in the system that has brought us our safe, comfortable lives. They want the same things we wanted, and they’re willing to work for it. The least we can do is help them get started.


To find out more about how to volunteer at USCRI Vermont, email Dee Dee and Hannah at [email protected]

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