This post was written by Jessie Sullivan ’16
This summer, I worked under the Volunteer and Intern Coordinator, Jennifer Cieselwitz at the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees. This is one of the foremost refugee centers in the country because the building itself houses all of the services resettling refugees need in their first few months. More commonly
called the Utica Refugee Center, we resettle about 500 people a year who have come from violent humanitarian conflicts across the globe. We have resettled over 15,000 refugees who now make up about 17% of the city’s population. MVRCR has many offices that complete the tasks of finding housing for all resettled refugees, finding all new refugees jobs, enrolling children in school, teaching English for free, beginning the Naturalization process for all new refugees, translating for people across the community, as well as many other tasks. Because there are so many tasks to complete and clients to help, the staff of the Refugee Center is always over-scheduled and the volunteer office is always disorganized.
I was one of many interns at MVRCR. We all were assigned different projects to complete, many of which were thinking about new programs that we could implement to help the new citizens that are our clients. A partner and I were thinking about ways to facilitate and encourage donations to MVRCR that might lead to greater community involvement in aiding newly arrived refugees and MVRCR. We designed a program called “New Home, Utica,” a system inspired by other organizations’ donation efforts. This program would be entirely volunteer and intern organized because it would be easy to track and verify the donations online between a various number of people.
We envision using Amazon.com to construct a “Wish List” containing many of the items newly arrived refugees most frequently need. These items would be listed by priority, price, and quantity needed. Any donation made on the MVRCR Amazon Wish List would be delivered directly to MVRCR. If the benefactor chooses to disclose their identity, we will automatically send them a thank you message and tell them about the difference even a small donation makes. By potentially creating a tiered system of levels of recognition for different sized donations, we could begin dialogue between the welcoming Utica community, MVRCR, and our newest community members. We would focus on single arrivals and small families (with no contacts in the area) as the primary recipients of these donated goods so that those new arrivals who need it most could begin their Utica experience with more money in their pocket. This program would also mean that the MVRCR staff has to spend less time gathering goods for these new apartment setups. To put it simply: everybody wins.
I also worked in the office doing a bunch of different things. I manned the front desk on multiple occasions and had the opportunity to interact with many refugees. I worked at the translation office, Compass Interpreters, and heard the stories of many people there. I organized events to reach out to the Utica population. I created a list of all of the restaurants and religious institutions in Utica and met so many interesting and important people in the community. So, while I did not do a lot of research or actually create the program I proposed, I had a great time learning about the refugees and the area of Utica. I will continue volunteering at MVRCR this semester in hopes that I can write a grant that would allow for this program to be established. I am so grateful for this opportunity and hope that my involvement in the future will be as fruitful as this summer was.