Meet Katy! She’s one of the first friendly faces refugees see upon arrival to their Knoxville home. Since October, she has been serving as an intern with Bridge, providing the cultural orientation classes required within the early days of their arrival.
Interns like Katy—who is technically also a volunteer, since the internship is unpaid—are crucial to helping support Bridge case managers who struggle with heavy caseloads and the many tasks that must be completed, as mandated by federal requirements, within refugees’ first 90 days of residency.
The presentations include information on everything from housekeeping to healthcare, finances to community resources—all the information designed to help newly minted immigrants settle into a new that is, typically, very foreign to them.
In addition to holding regular orientation classes for new arrivals, Katy, who is earning her master’s in social work at the University of Tennessee, has tackled the job of reviewing existing curriculum and creating an in-depth proposal for a future curriculum for which Bridge will actively seek funding. For example, the proposal calls for holding one of the sessions in a client’s home, where it’s easier to demonstrate practical skills of homemaking. Another idea is taking clients on a tour of the town, using the opportunity to try out public transit. She has created materials being integrated into the current cultural orientation. For example, she developed a list of rules, translated into the client’s native language, for proper care of a home or apartment and posted there for handy reference.
Whatever the final results of the project, Katy says she’s enjoyed both interacting with clients and applying newly-learned social work skills to the work of helping “clients feel empowered to be self-sufficient and take care of their families.”
This isn’t Katy’s first experience with Bridge. Five years ago, she volunteered as an ESL instructor. She was paired with an Iranian family, with whom she became close and remains friends.
Katy says volunteers are an important part of helping refugees settle into the community and thrive there—and the rewards are mutual. As a volunteer, it was sharing family meals and forming a friendship. As an intern, it’s getting to be part of many families’ transition to a new life.
“It’s always amazing how resilient people are,” she says. “They are incredible. That’s really inspiring, and it makes you want to continue to help.”