By: Mindy Velasquez
In the first weeks at my worksite I was given a list of names to look at files and case notes to read to get an idea of what to expect. I would also hear the stories of my coworkers and as I am settling in and getting more involved in my work there is more than names, files and case notes.
During Tuesday evening of the third week in November, a speed interviewing session was scheduled for a group of refugees in which volunteers would help the refugees practice their interviewing skills. It was 6:30 pm and it had been a long day, everyone was settled in and ready to start the speed interviewing session. Our first round was completed and the second round is about to start. We guide the clients from one volunteer to the next but this second round started a chain reaction. One refugee was placed out of order with a volunteer and this one move created a chaos throughout the evening that it threw off the placements in every subsequent round. But somehow in us trying to create sense and order in managing the situation the refugees were enjoying the experience even when some did notice what was going on. Even when they seemed nervous because they are not familiar with the American job experience this session was fun to them. At the end of the day when we were all gathered in the hallway near the exit getting ready to take them home, we saw that the refugees responded with excitement to our supervisor.
The following day, Wednesday morning, I arrived at the office checking my work email to get my day started. The first email I noticed is my coworker is out sick. At the same time my other coworker was not going to be at the office all week. So after the speed interviewing session last night I was the only person in the Employment Team at the office. This day was also going to be new since my coworker was going to take two clients to the Marshalls Distribution Center. Neither I nor my coworker were familiar with this new worksite or its job application process and I only had 20 minutes to get ready to embark on this journey. The two clients arrived, a young brother and sister who we have been working with for a while. We arrived to the warehouse and found our way to the front desk where we found the applications to fill out. We needed to go outside to fill them out and we sat down in a bench. The brother and sister filled out their applications asking me a few questions here and there. At one moment as I was assisting the brother I asked him to make a correction. The brother and sister started talking to each other in their native language and I noticed from their interaction the sister was either making fun of him or just pointing out his mistake in an amusing way. Even when I could not understand their conversation the interaction they were having in that moment felt very universal as a brother and sister. Even when at the end he playfully patted her on the head with his application.
Thursday was also going to be a day full of tasks to accomplish but plans are only plans. On this day I was to take three clients to Mountville Mills in LaGrange, Georgia which is about an hour and twenty minutes away from the office. Of the three clients only one arrived and at the same time a coworker had taken the car I was supposed to drive half an hour before I am supposed to leave. Eventually the client and I were off on the road to orientation. About three miles away from our exit I heard a noise and we look at each other. I decided to pull over slowly as this sound is familiar to me and when I safely get down I noticed we have a flat tire. With every step we took to fix the flat tire something would arise to overcome this challenge. First the car insurance does not travel far out to provide assistance, then the car unknowingly had no spare tire, and when a fellow coworker came to help both spares were not a good fit. All through this time my client and I had to wait and be patient during these challenges. Throughout waiting we managed to take a nap waiting for my coworker to arrive, the client listened to music in his native language and would sing along, eventually he made a phone call and seemed to have a good conversation since he was laughing and even asked me if we could go to the next village to get help. At the end when we got a new tire and got on the road, we decided to stop and get some food. I asked the client if he would like a burger, but he said he never had one before; we ended the day with a new experience.
Every day is a new day at Catholic Charities. Moments like these that were lived in this week of November are only a glimpse of what I have experienced. From seeing the excitement of people learning a new skill amidst the chaos during an educational session; to the relationships that are being lived while trying to settle in to daily life; or the small moments of listening to music, laughing, or experiencing a new meal during a challenging situation do not always make it in the case notes or files. These memorable stories and moments happen all the time in our daily lives. Each refugee that walks in our doors come from different backgrounds and the interactions and situations that arise with each is different and unique and this adds something more than what you can find in a simple file or case note.