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ConnectVA Spotlight: Stephen Allen, International Rescue Committee

Tell us about yourself:

Stephen Allen is the Site Manager – International Rescue Committee in Richmond. He will celebrate 10 years with IRC in March and moved to Richmond shortly after the IRC in Richmond opened in October, 2015 as a sub-office of IRC in Charlottesville. Stephen worked with IRC in Phoenix for 8 years, starting as a volunteer in 2008 and has a Master of Science in International Development Studies.

What is the focus of your work, the need you are addressing?

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. Refugees come from crowded camps, precarious urban areas and life-threatening conflict zones around the world. They have waited years for a place to call home. With support from the community, the International Rescue Committee is committed to helping refugees build new lives in Richmond.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

Many families have left everything behind and are incredibly intimidated by life in the U.S. Seeing a family adapt, gain confidence and ultimately thrive in their new home is a life changing experience. Equally rewarding is seeing a community rally around this great cause. Welcoming refugees into our city and providing friendship and support is the highlight of my work.

What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?

The amount of money available for newly arriving refugees is very limited. Each person in a family only gets around $1,000  from the US Department of State to help with resettlement costs. That is not each month – that is $1,000 per person and when it is gone it is gone. So, a family of 3 will have approximately $3,000 for rent, furniture and household supplies to get them started in Richmond. IRC works to get refugee clients employed as soon as possible but preparing and securing a job can take time. The IRC in Richmond has been very creative in finding ways to help refugee families extend these funds. The community in Richmond has been an integral part of this – donating new beds, kitchenware, warm clothing and other items that would normally be purchased with these resettlement funds. As a result, the IRC has helped all newly arriving families secure employment before these funds were spent and has invited the community to be an active participant in the resettlement of refugee families.

What’s one misconception the public has about your organization OR what would someone be surprised to know about your organization?

Many people assume that the IRC only serves refugees and that all of IRC funding comes from the US Government. This is not true. The IRC has 28 offices around the United States and we consider ourselves to be a community based organization. The IRC in Richmond serves a diverse group of clients, including those with Political Asylum, Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Afghans and Iraqis that worked with US Government and Victims of Human-Trafficking. Furthermore, the IRC strives to have a diverse portfolio of private donors and local foundations. Localized funding allows for progressive programming that can be an asset to Central Virginia and caters to the unique needs of our clients in Richmond.

Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?

The IRC and ReEstablish Richmond have partnered on a new initiative to start a community health worker program that will assist the most vulnerable refugees to find a medical home and achieve better health outcomes. The program will train two health workers who will provide assistance to newly arriving families in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner. To start, this program will focus on refugees that speak Arabic and Kinyarwanda – primarily from Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Syria and Sudan. Newly arriving refugees and other immigrants often struggle to navigate the complex American healthcare system and this program will help such clients gain confidence and achieve well-being.

Are you and/or your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

The IRC is actively involved with key stakeholders in the Richmond community through the Virginia Community Capacity Initiative and the Henrico Refugee Care Community. These two groups bring community leaders and service providers together to tackle barriers and to improve opportunities for refugees and other IRC beneficiaries. In addition, several communities of faith have significantly impacted the programming of IRC and refugee families in Richmond, including: The Islamic Center of Virginia (ICVA); Temple Beth-El Synagogue; 2nd Presbyterian Church; Third Church; Grace Baptist and United Church of Christ. These community collaborations are elevating IRC’s services and profile in the region.

How are you leveraging ConnectVA/The Community Foundation to achieve your mission?

The IRC sees health services as a central component in helping refugee families restart their lives and the Community Foundation has given support for the IRC to do so. By funding the Community Health Promoter program, the IRC will have the capability and capacity to help all family members have access to adequate and appropriate healthcare services. Furthermore, families will be able to learn in their own home from someone that speaks their language and understands their culture. Without assistance from the Community Foundation this would not have been possible.

Anything else you would like to share?

The IRC in Richmond is one of the newest resettlement offices in the U.S. The current political climate and series of executive orders have made refugee resettlement very challenging. While the IRC continues to aggressively push Congress and the US Government to recognize the contributions that refugees bring to our country, the true impact and effort to help refugees adjust comes at the local level. Please explore our work by visiting Rescue.org/Richmond. If you are interested in volunteering, donating items or making a financial contribution, please email Richmond@Rescue.org  We all have a part to play in the biggest humanitarian crisis since 1945. No matter how small our effort is – we can make a big difference in the lives of refugees and other immigrants resettling in Richmond.

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