Every year for Giving Back Tuesday I choose an organization that Under the Nile donates to. This year I have chosen the International Institute of St. Louis. With the influx of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees, I thought our clothing and toys would be much needed for refugee families with infants and babies.
For every item purchased during Giving Back Tuesday on Tuesday November 29th, 2022, Under the Nile will donate an item to the International Institute of St. Louis.
I met virtually with John Worth, the Volunteer Program Manager, and Kelly Moore, the Director of Community engagement, to discuss the vital work that the Institute is doing and how refugee integration only adds to the vibrancy of our cities.
Janice: Can you tell me more about the services you offer for refugees?
John: We offer essential economic and cultural integration services, including English classes, employment, orientation, and citizenship preparation. We also host events and make presentations to build inclusive and mutually respectful relationships between foreign-born newcomers and all community members.
We provide core services including housing for any family size. Prior to arrival, the apartment/house are also stocked with core necessities like food and bedding. Each family is assigned a case worker who will closely work with the family by providing home visits. The first thing the case worker does is set up an appointment with a medical professional.
We also have a career advancement program to help make connections in the field they are in.
Janice: What are some of the difficulties refugees face when they first arrive to the US?
John: The most major issue is the English language and the lack of understanding. Many refugees come here with no or little English language.
Another difficulty is transportation. We are continually offering training in transportation - how to get around using public transportation can be daunting. We try to house our new incoming refugees close to the institute because the institute will be their lifeline to the programs.
As simple as it sounds, grocery shopping, is another difficulty our refugees face when they first arrive.
Their case worker will take the family grocery shopping getting them acclimated with the grocery environment showing them where to find the food items they are used to and how to avoid ingredients which may be prohibited in their religion or culture.
Janice: What partnerships or relationships do you cultivate to foster an inclusive community for refugees?
Kelly: We have collaborations with partner agencies that offer similar services with refugees. They are invited to weekly meetings to discuss the problems that have come up and brainstorm solutions that can be implemented. Sharing information is also vital.
One of our partner agencies is the “Immigrant Service Providers Network (ISPN)
We also host an annual event called the Festival of Nations. It’s the largest multi-cultural event of the year where our community and neighboring communities can come together. The Festival of Nation is a deliberate step towards building an inclusive society where all can grow to their fullest potential. It is an opportunity to engage in cultures other than one’s own, and to enrich each person’s worldview in a meaningful way.
John: Our staff is also inclusive. We have staff members from all over the world. This allows everyone to provide different ideas and thoughts. Our diverse staff speaks many different languages which also helps with communicating to our clients.
Janice: How do volunteers play a part at the institute and how can people get involved?
John: Volunteers are a core part of who we are and we rely on our volunteers. Our volunteers provide us with everything from assistant teaching to baby-sitting and grocery shopping.
We also provide a service with ARP where retired CPA help our clients with taxes for free. We also conduct community outreach career fairs to recruit volunteers and we also have on our website
A link to volunteer opportunities:
You can also make a charitable donation at Donate – International Institute of St. Louis (iistl.org)
Your donation makes a huge difference - helping provide life-altering education, training, employment and counselling to immigrant arrivals from around the world and meanwhile build a more inclusive and productive community for all.
Thank you for supporting this event and helping me make our Giving Back Tuesdays a success!