Be Adaptable, My Friend

By Maris Kramer

Imagine that you have scheduled a meeting with staff from an organization. You have never visited their office before, and you want to make a good impression. You dress in a suit and shake hands with your receivers, who take you through a door and lead you toward your meeting place. And as you weave through aisles stuffed to the brim with boxes, stockings, gift cards, and bicycles, you begin to realize: things work a little differently here. 

Meet Refugee Resettlement Services, a department of Catholic Charities Atlanta (CCA). Catholic Charities is one of many refugee resettlement agencies in Atlanta and cities across the country. Unabashedly committed to serving persons who have been persecuted throughout their lives, persons who have been uprooted from their home country and replanted in Northeast Atlanta, things can get a little crowded in the office. At Christmastime, CCA partners with local parishes who adopt refugee families and provide them with individualized gifts. The rest of the year, you might find yourself stepping over boxes of rice, squeezing around some kitchen chairs, and catching a lamp that you accidentally knocked over on your way out the door. Life moves pretty fast here, and sometimes the hallways have a purpose more meaningful than being a mere pedestrian thoroughfare.  

That's not to say Catholic Charities is messy or disorganized. These words are here simply to convey that CCA does not need to put up any fronts; the work says enough. Here is a brief rundown of the team's daily efforts.

CCA receives word that, for example, a Burmese family of five will arrive on a flight into Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport next month. The mobilization begins. Finding appropriate housing, scheduling health screenings, and as the day gets closer, buying groceries, a cell phone, and arranging appropriate interpretation for the 11:30 p.m. airport pick-up. Is it cold out? Make sure you have jackets for all family members! Are they Muslim? Only buy meat from that place down the road. There are numerous everyday considerations that go into making each person of any ethnicity feel as safe and welcome as possible. And then the fun begins: cultural orientations, employment orientations, travel workshops, English classes. If I had to learn as much as these folks had to learn in a ninety-day period, there would not be enough sleep in the world to make me feel rested. 

At the refugee resettlement office, I am an employment specialist. (It's okay. I laugh at the "specialist" part, too.) This means that I schedule and conduct job training sessions for our clients, search for appropriate employment and transportation options, and assist them with filling out applications. Well, that's the job description, but at CCA, everybody helps everybody. "Can you go with me to move a couch today? Do you have time to get seven pillows and four floor lamps from Walmart? Will you knock on my client's door and give him this check?—He hasn't answered my phone calls this week." Be adaptable, my friend. Be adaptable. 

Of course, I've left out some amazing programs and astounding people. The staff who teach parents about American public schools and assist them at parent-teacher conferences. The interns who help clients manage their brand-new prescriptions. The volunteers who take the time to explain how to clean a counter top and a toilet, objects foreign to a camp dwelling.  

Can you see how much life happens here? Hopefully I get to speak to you again. There's so much more to say.