Share the Journey — Journey with refugee families

Rachel Van Dyke

I credit the job I have now at Catholic Charities to an Afghan family I met back in November 2021. 

My church, Grace Anglican, partners with Refuge International, a nonprofit that helps give local churches opportunities to meet and serve refugee families. 

That November, I found myself in a half-empty apartment on Fegenbush Lane, vacuuming bugs, hanging shower curtains, organizing kitchen cupboards, and laying out fresh bedding for a family that would arrive in Louisville the next day. My church’s job was to help set up their apartment, pick them up at the airport, and prepare a hot meal for them to come home to. 

I’ll always remember when they entered the apartment for the first time. The father stopped in the doorway and thanked God for bringing them to safety and providing them a home. 

I learned a lot watching the family go through their first few days and weeks in the country: shopping at Walmart for the first time, figuring out the TARC bus, scheduling an appointment with an eye doctor, trying to revive an old cell phone SIM card, picking up produce and clothes at local donation centers, searching for a job in their field, and certainly not least of all, coordinating their asylum interview appointment. 

I was so impressed by the family’s independence, intelligence, good humor and resourcefulness. They were also endlessly kind to me, always asking how my husband was doing, sharing about their country and culture and pouring me endless glasses of cardamom green tea. 

At that time I realized I needed to quit my job and start working with refugee families full-time in some capacity. 

I interviewed at Catholic Charities of Louisville with the lovely Layne Sanders in June 2022, originally for a youth caseworker position, but ultimately found myself very interested in the coordinator position for the Youth Mentoring Program. I loved the idea of facilitating a relationship-based program that gave Louisville natives the opportunity to meet refugee families face-to-face, hear their stories, share resources and build friendships. 

I just hit my one-year anniversary in the position and consider it a major privilege to enjoy the people I work for and work with on a daily basis. I’ve learned a lot about the challenges facing refugee and immigrant youth in Louisville, and I love witnessing the ways kids grow and conquer those challenges through their own resourcefulness and through having a positive adult mentor in their life, cheering them on.  

I’d love to take this opportunity to say: We’re accepting applications for new mentors! Today, more than 25 refugee kids and young adults are on our program waitlist, waiting to be matched with a mentor. 

We’re looking for applicants who:

  • Are age 18+ in the Louisville area who care about welcoming, encouraging and empowering young refugees. 
  • Are able to commit to spending four to six hours each month with their mentee for six months to 1 year. 
  • Can bring enthusiasm to planning activities based on their mentee’s interests and help them make progress in their goals. 

The first step is to submit a volunteer application at https://cclou.org/volunteer-application/
Anyone interested can also reach out to me directly with questions at rvandyke@archlou.org. I’d love to talk to you and see if this program could be the right fit for you.

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