This month’s thought leader piece is written by Baindu Akinrotiba. Baindu is a two-time AmeriCorps alum, with one year of service being completed at New American Pathways. She received her master’s in social work with a focus on international social work, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Baindu now serves as the New American Pathways Community Partnerships Coordinator and facilitates recruitment and onboarding of groups interested in supporting refugees in Atlanta.
As a social worker by education and training I have seen the evolution of volunteerism over the years. From street cleanups to mission trips, volunteerism has moved from a focus on the meaning of efforts to the volunteer, to being more focused on the outcomes of communities served. What has been at the nexus of this shift is organizations like New American Pathways that provide orientation, training, and support for how to be an effective and ethical volunteer. I believe that serving others is a learned skill and those interested in genuinely helping others must understand what the helping process looks like for those being supported. Through my social work education, I provide evidence-based training and support to those interested in serving others. Moreover, New AP volunteers learn to build rapport, listen empathetically, and assist those in need in ways that are influenced by the desires of the population being served.
With the refugee community at the center of New AP efforts, groups can step into service roles that build our capacity while providing refugees and community partners mutually beneficial opportunities. Through community partnership coordination, needs are matched with skill sets to move clients and their families to self-sustainability. Along the way, both parties learn from each other and, through fellowship, share cultures and customs. This provides volunteer groups the opportunity to gain a global perspective and for the refugee community to become acclimated to their new home in ways that permit them to thrive through community support.
Refugee support can be wide-ranging and New AP provides a variety of opportunities for various types of volunteer groups to get involved. The newly launched Family Friend Program responded to the outpouring of US support for families from Afghanistan. Being a “family friend” provides an opportunity for faith-based and community partner organizations to learn how to serve in immediate times of need and in ways that are unique to diverse refugee families. Being a “family friend” is responsive, evolving, and empowering as it keeps the refugee family at the center of community efforts and as active participants in their helping process. Faith-based organizations and communities have rallied support for those fleeing Afghanistan not only through donations, but through fellowship, love, and ongoing support. Congregational families are becoming extended families and New AP refugee families appreciate the supplemental support through what can be an arduous and taxing relocation process.
The Family Friend Program is the present and future of service and volunteerism. It is a paradigm shift from dependency to community participatory engagement with refugee families. These and other efforts by New AP support the call to “walk alongside” refugees so that service is sustainable and demonstrates cultural humility. New AP welcomes the opportunity to connect with community organizations with interests in joining the Family Friend Program, and I look forward to onboarding those interested in giving back in ways that build resilience.