Women’s History Month Spotlight: Dylanna Grasinger

By USCRI March 13, 2024

This Women’s History Month, we sat down with Dylanna Grasinger, Senior Director of Field Offices at USCRI to talk about her 20+ years of experience in the field, her role overseeing USCRI’s domestic offices, and her advice for achieving systemic access for refugees and immigrants.


Q: What led you to your current role?

Dylanna: I started working with refugees and immigrants two plus decades ago and I started out as a volunteer ESL [English as a Second Language] teacher for a local nonprofit that was part of the USCRI network. From there I just built on that experience and moved into different fields of education and worked at the university and eventually found my way into this role again.

Q: What made you want to be a volunteer ESL teacher in the first place?

Dylanna: For me, the passion always comes when I have an opportunity to teach. I always wanted to teach but being in the public school system just never quite felt like the path that I wanted to go down. So, I started looking at other avenues and other places you take a teaching career and that led me to the organization, the International Institute of Akron. So, I thought let me give this a try and see how this goes and that really just sparked something in me that was greater than just that teaching experience.


Q: What made you want to come to USCRI?

Dylanna: I’ve always been in the USCRI network, so whether it’s been in a field office or with an affiliate, I stuck with this organization. The message and the mission really resonated with me. I think the way that we stay client-centered was always in the forefront of my mind and really hit home. So, it makes sense as I moved around other affiliates within the USCRI network and then eventually into a field office, again, staying within the same network.


Q: What do you think helped you get where you are today as the Senior Field Office Director?

Dylanna: I think putting clients first. At the end of the day, what we do is about clients and making sure that I’m able to support staff in a way so that they can be their best selves to deliver services that really help the individuals that are coming through our doors.


Q: What is your day-to-day like in this role?

Dylanna: The day-to-day can be organized chaos- that’s how I like to explain it. It’s a lot of problem-solving. It’s listening to the staff on the ground and hearing the challenges they may be experiencing and helping them navigate that so that we can deliver better client services. I also think there are plenty of successes that happened through the day and taking the time to hear those from staff. But it can range from budgets to HR, to clients, to strategic planning. So organized chaos and being available and flexible.

Q: What would you say are the biggest challenges of this role?

Dylanna: I think sometimes the biggest challenge is having to set boundaries.
We’re all very passionate about what we do on the ground and throughout USCRI, so knowing that sometimes we can’t always say yes and how are we crafting the no so that it’s constructive and moving somebody forward and not actually tearing them down or keeping them in a spot that maybe they don’t want to be.

Q: And what is the most rewarding part?

Dylanna: The rewarding parts are really the stories that staff share, whether it’s somebody bought their first home, somebody got their first job, you know, small success stories. You know that they were able to navigate the bus system after several failed attempts, things like that, things that maybe sometimes we take for granted when we know the systems. We may forget that those things are very challenging, so being reminded of that keeps you humble, but it it’s also these great moments that people are really excited and seeing the clients.


“It’s a really great opportunity to recognize the women all around us.”

Dylanna Grasinger about Women’s History Month



Q: Is there a story that particularly stood out to you?

Dylanna: Erie has a childcare center and so in my time being the director there, we really focused a couple of programs on being women-centered and serving a lot of single households led by mothers. So, when we were able to get those mothers jobs, they were able to come in and pick up their children after work and there’s this moment of independence and you can see the shift in somebody’s eyes.
You know, there’s a brightness that maybe wasn’t there beforehand. It happens often, I will say, which is a good thing, but it’s not just one moment, it’s overall. It’s been very rewarding to see that shift in individuals and to see it in real-time.


Q: You touched on this already, but how do USCRI’s field offices support women and girls?

Dylanna:  As the senior director, I really try to find avenues to have conversations with staff, and directors in particular, on what are we doing to make sure that we’re creating equitable access and that access is systemic, that it’s not just temporary and really lays the groundwork for longer-term education that moves women.

It’s not always about a dollar sign – maybe some women aren’t going to work.
How are those women able then, to care for their family in a system that they’re not familiar with? And making sure that we’re doing that groundwork because it’s easy sometimes to focus on getting dad the job and mom’s just home with the kids because you know, Dad’s already got a job. Of course, we need economic stability, but we also need other supports in place.
So really making sure again that we’re creating equitable access and that that access is systemic and not just temporary.


Q: What does systemic access look like?

Dylanna:  I think systemic access and impacting change is centered around education, right? So what is the educational tool or resource that we can provide to women and children to make sure that if the case manager is no longer with us, if the organization was not there, what have we done to empower them and to meet them where they’re at and uplift their situation in a way that resonates longer term?
So education I think is really key, in whatever fashion that may look like, it may be just navigating the healthcare system, navigating transportation, it could be higher education at some point, or getting a driver’s license, any of those things that again meet women where they’re at and really uplift and move them forward.

Q: Do you have any advice for people who want to do similar work that you do?

Dylanna: Obviously have been doing this for a very long time, so I do enjoy it.
I love to talk about it with people, I would say the advice is learning how to say that no. It’s not always easy setting those boundaries, but it’s really the most empowering thing for someone in front of you because it helps reshape their path.
There’s that cliche phrase, “instead of a handout, a hand up”, which I don’t really like, but learning that “No” can be impactful if you know how to do that and make it work for the clients.


Q: Could you give an example of what that might look like?

Dylanna: There are times when it may be easier for someone to come in and say, hey, I can’t get to work today, can you the agency provide that transportation?
Well, yes, of course, maybe we could, but have they really explored all options?
So they’ve missed the bus or their ride or whatever it is, what do we need to do to better manage that situation and help, versus just saying yes, let’s get in the car and go to work. Have they learned to call their employer and say they’re going to be late?
All these things that go around it that again we kind of take for granted. In the end, we can probably take them and make sure they’re there, we don’t want anyone to lose their job, but has this individual really explored all the resources that maybe they’ve been shown to use? And if they haven’t, what can we do better? So sometimes it’s a no.
You’ve been shown how to take the bus, you need to do that. You do have enough English, you are able to make a call to your boss. I can help you, but we need to communicate that out versus just somebody doing it for you. So, it’s about teaching.


Q: What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

Dylanna: I think it’s a really great opportunity to recognize the women all around us.
And the impact that we make the day to day, whether it’s as a mother, as a professional career woman, in whatever capacity. And I think it’s an opportunity to go back to education on the contributions that women bring to everyday life.


Other Women’s History Month spotlights: AnnaMarie Bena, Hila Moss


USCRI, founded in 1911, is a non-governmental, not-for-profit international organization committed to working on behalf of refugees and immigrants and their transition to a dignified life.

Related Posts

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Alejita...

USCRI sat down with Alejita Rodriguez, Director of USCRI's shelter Rinconcito del Sol (a little corner of sunshine) this Women's...


Women’s History Month Spotlight: AnnaMarie...

We sat down with AnnaMarie Bena, Senior Vice President at USCRI, to discuss her career, how she ended up in...


Women’s History Month Spotlight: Hila...

For Women’s History Month, we sat down with Hila Moss, Director of Legal Services at USCRI to talk about her...