Post written by Sarah Wylie ’18, Marissa Roberge ’17 and Jinsuh Cho ’18
Marissa, Jinsuh and Sarah are working at the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees (MVRCR). The center is located in Utica, NY where about 18% of the population is foreign born and 26% of households speak a language other than English. Utica is a sight of secondary migration meaning refugees who were resettled at other locations move to Utica as a preferred community and to reconnect with family or friends. In the 1990s Utica experienced a sharp population decline and the resettlement of refugees has helped to stabilize the population. MVRCR assists refugees as well as immigrants and limited English proficient individuals with the community integration process by providing such in-house services as ESL classes, immigration and citizenship services and legal consultation. This is in addition to programs geared toward helping individuals achieve independence and self-sufficiency.
Volunteering at the center has afforded these fellows valuable experiences including understanding and assisting in various stages of the refugee resettlement and integration processes, event planning and aspects of the business, film and health worlds. Each fellow is working on a unique project. Marissa is partnering with organizations in the community to grow and develop MVRCR’s Re.Source Traditional Artisans Program. Jinsuh is working to prepare for this year’s annual UNSPOKEN Human Rights Film Festival. Sarah is working with MVRCR’s Health Access Coordinator to improve health access among refugees after their initial resettlement. At the start of their internships preparations for World Refugee Day were in full swing and much of their time was devoted to building educational displays and planning for the celebration that took place on June 18th at City Hall. This day celebrates the diverse experiences and cultures of refugees. The women have also assisted the Resettlement Office by participating in apartment set ups for new arrivals. They’ve sat in on ESL classes at the center and before the summer is over will have the chance to attend a naturalization ceremony and participate in airport pick-ups.
Below the fellows describe their individual tasks, goals and accomplishments within MVRCR:
I applied to be a Field School Fellow as a result of the positive experiences of my peers, interest in the non-profit sector and a desire to give back to this area of Upstate New York that I have called home for the last three years. As a Peace and Conflict Studies concentrator with a passion for human rights, the Mohawk Valley Resource Center has been the perfect fit. My work is specifically with a program called Re.Source Traditional Artisans. Originally the motivation behind this program was to help refugees become self-sufficient by creating a source of supplemental income that also allows them to continue to practice a traditional craft. By aiding artisans’ growth through micro-enterprise and introducing their products to the broader community of Utica for sale, the hope was also that this program would build a bridge between the refugee population and the city. This is still a major goal of the program, but in working with Utica City Hall we have decided to expand the program to any disempowered members of the Utica community and have since changed the name to The One World Marketplace.
My Field School experience has afforded me the opportunity to partner with such members of the community as Utica City Hall and the ThINCubator to develop a program with both an educational and economic component. Participants will have the opportunity to perfect and sell handicrafts. They will be trained with a curriculum that ThINCubator and MVRCR have created reviewing the basics of business. As participants wish to take on greater management roles within the microenterprise the classes will become more detailed. The program will have vendor (those creating the merchandise), street team (those selling merchandise via custom carts built by The Oneida Square Project) and apprenticeship (those taking a larger management role) components. Participants can determine their desired level of involvement.
This program has existed in some form for a number of years, but never to the scale at which we are growing it now. The employees at the center, my supervisors in particular, carry many responsibilities and have not been able to dedicate a single person to the creation and growth of Re.Source. My role is to be that point person while we register the small business as an LLC, start the onboarding process and run our first sale on August 1st at the Levitt Concert Series. I have taken a lead role in our weekly meetings with community partners; created and enforced a schedule for my supervisors; conducted research on similar existing programs; helped budget money from our various grants; assisted in decision making about how the program should function, best practices, curriculum and compensation. Additionally, I have been collecting information about the social benefits participants may be receiving that will be consulted later to explain to participants how work with Re.Source will impact their benefits. By the conclusion of the summer I plan to have started a detailed website that will include a description of the program, artisan autobiographies and a blog that will be updated regularly.
UNSPOKEN Human Rights Film Festival is an annual event that aims to raise awareness about human rights issues around the world by delivering different voices. Its goal is to provide a greater outlook of the world and promote compassion and understanding. My job on this project started with selecting films that fit the purpose of the film festival and are appropriate for showing to the public. I also worked on making a flier and a trailer video while updating the event program from last year. Our goal for this summer is to have a marketing plan leading up to October and start advertising as soon as the final line-up list of films is approved. Another portion of my project was to build a survey tool in order to collect more information about our audience and learn whether the film festival was effective in influencing their perspectives.
Working at MVRCR has taught me to work with flexibility even if I am not familiar with the skills required by my tasks. At times I have felt lost, but I soon realized that if I tried to break down the problem and start with smaller things, I could figure my way out. Upstate Institute program has also taught me about the area that I am currently living in. These experiences are especially valuable for me because I am an international student, and it is limiting to learn about the United States only in Hamilton. I am glad that I was able to expand from Hamilton to other parts of Upstate New York and learn its history.
This summer, I have been working as a health access intern at the refugee center. The project proposed for my fellowship was to discover barriers faced by refugees when accessing health care, and to create ways to reduce these barriers. More specifically, I have worked to organize the health access coordination program by creating a directory of Utica’s health and social services providers, by developing an intake form for clients, and by creating other organizational tools such as client logs and appointment calendars. Once I created these tools, I set to work using them as I aided the Health Access Coordinator in her casework. For example, I attended appointments with clients, completed intake forms, made calls to local healthcare agencies, and referred clients. I have also done much research focused on refugee mental health and trauma. One of my major goals for the summer was to create a PowerPoint presentation on trauma-informed care that could be used in cultural competency trainings for local health and service providers. I am still hard at work on this project, but I am hoping to finish soon. I see this presentation as my most important contribution to the organization, because it addresses a critical need for awareness of the gap between refugees and health or social service providers when it comes to trauma. Hopefully this training will allow providers to more effectively and compassionately serve refugee clients.
At the beginning of the summer, I hoped to learn about refugees and U.S. immigration processes. However, through my work at the center, not only have I learned about these processes, I have also developed a wider variety of skills. I have increased my knowledge on refugee health and trauma specifically, and I have improved my research skills more generally. My ability to engage in cross-cultural communication has increased, and I have even had time to expand my Arabic language skills.
For me, there is no typical day. I spend most of my time on the computer doing research for the trauma-informed care presentation or the services directory, but I frequently put this work aside to help with more urgent health access issues like intake forms, referrals, and appointments.
I wanted to be a Field School Fellow because I love community service and academic research, and this seemed like the perfect combination for me. I was also interested in the fellowships at the refugee center specifically, because I felt it would complement my academic experience as a Geography and Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies double major.