Return to Adopt-A-Refugee-Family Project: A "How-To"

Advice: In Our Own Words

Throughout this project, and especially in retrospect, it became abundantly clear what the most important aspects of success were: being realistic, being in constant communication, and remaining organized. Aside from our tasks within the house, the class was broken into various teams to get the word out, fundraise, and document our project. Here are some crucial pieces of advice from Cristen, principal fundraiser; Alix, coordinator of the project; and Professor Anne Gebelein. All stress communication and organization which are attributes to be considered regardless of the task at hand during a project like this.

On Fundraising:

“When assigned to the fundraising aspect for our class project I tried to think of what would be the best way to attract people with different interests to attend. Being a part of an a-cappella group on campus, I felt that I could execute a concert successfully. My idea was to extend the invitations to all a-cappella groups on campus – we were lucky to have 3 out of the 5 groups perform for our cause. To spread awareness of what we were doing, we advertised around campus [via the publicity team]. On the posters we put our cause, location, date, and performers. We also created and sent out a Facebook event invitation to the student body with pictures and clear, concise information about our mission as well as the details of the concert. I think that the central location we picked worked very well (we performed near the dining hall during dinnertime). During the performance we had people handing out flyers with our information on our project. We had a Bantam Bucks machine (we use Bantam Bucks as the Trinity Campus currency), which was extremely convenient because people without cash were still able to donate. Looking back, I would have definitely planned the event with more time. This way, I could spread the news even more and get more a-cappella groups involved. But having the Bantam Bucks machine or a similar device is definitely the best the best advice I’d give to future groups.”

– Cristen, one of the students in charge of fundraising and event planning for our project

On Overall Organization:

“Being realistic and conscious of your limitations is the most important during a project like this. Take stock of the bare minimum that is truly needed and sort that out first. See who has cars to go pick up larger items and figure out where to store them before you find yourselves stuck. Try to get the word out on campus before a break from school so that kids can see what they have at home. Be aware of who has access to items and who doesn’t, in our case, West Coast people who could not get major furniture items were put on less furniture intensive teams. Additionally, focus on communication and make sure that each team has a point person who will coordinate with the overall coordinator, otherwise things get chaotic fast.”

– Alix, ‘master-organizer’ of the project

On Working with a Community Partner:

Refugee resettlement agencies are often understaffed and underfunded. Case workers and directors juggle many families at once and have long working days, which may begin by taking children to health care clinics for school physicals, and end by meeting families arriving at the airport late at night on international flights. Even then they may be up til 2am explaining to these new Americans how toilets and stoves work.

While a volunteer organization like ours saves them time and money, it also costs them time in answering our questions, arranging to be at the apartment so that we can move things in, arranging for us to learn about refugees at their center and to meet the sponsored family. Community learning is different from service learning in that community learning implies that there is an exchange of resources: we obtain hands-on experience and information that enhances what we are studying, and the community agency obtains volunteer help. In our case, we were not only furnishing an apartment, but developing this do-it-yourself guide on the internet for future volunteer groups.

Consequently, it is crucial to have an honest dialogue and brainstorming session with a potential community partner before starting any project. It is important to clarify for them what your group’s strengths are, what you are looking to get out of such a project, what time commitment you believe you can invest in, and what goals you have. Their needs may not be what you imagine them to be, so it is important to determine those as well. When we started this project, I was originally thinking we could do a collaborative educational piece. But when I realized that Catholic Charities most needed help in furnishing apartments, that’s when our own project began to take shape and we realized how we could best help each other. We ultimately decided that the class would benefit from a meeting with  settled refugees during the semester to learn more about their cultural rights violations and what brought them to the United States, which the director arranged. We then worked with Monda, a warm and dedicated case worker, to get into the apartment to furnish it and ultimately meet the family we sponsored. There were many times during the semester when neither was available to talk to us because of their busy schedules. For this reason,  clear messages, advanced notices about our needs, and flexibility were indispensable. We had to be organized, concise, and patient in our dealings with a very busy group of people. It was invaluable to appoint a responsible and skilled communicator to focus exclusively on agency-student interactions.

– Anne Gebelein, professor

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