Thursday, February 25, 2010

Community Partner Spotlight: East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assitance Center

by Ann Abbott

This semester,Kirsten Hope, one of the "Spanish in the Community" TAs will be visiting each of our community partners, just to check in on how things are going and to get a different perspective on their work and our students' work with them.

My very first community partner, and the first one that Kirsten has visited this semester is the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC), also known as the Refugee Center. They offer a myriad of support services for all refugees, asylees and immigrants in our area. Their biggest worry right now is funding (all agencies who depend on support from the State of Illinois are in the same boat), and Kirsten stressed the importance of their upcoming fundraising dinner for Saturday, March 6. Please consider buying tickets or making a donation to ECIRMAC at 302 S. Birch St., Urbana, IL 6180.

Here are Kirsten's words about what she saw and thought when she visited ECIRMAC last week:

"I went to the Refugee Center today! It wasn't exactly what I was expecting. After hearing my former roommate and students talk about it, I expected a spacious office, maybe among a row of other offices or something. When I pulled up to the church, and saw the sign on the door for ECIRMAC, I was, needless to say, surprised. [Click here to see pictures.] When I saw that what I had imagined as a spacious office was really a one-room office with about 5 personnel, I was astounded. I can't believe the amount of work they do with the limited resources they have! I got to meet several of the workers, and, of course, our student volunteer, Ryan Rogowski.

"Ryan told me about the typical duties he has there, and I was so impressed with the work that he and other volunteers do!! By translating official documents, talking to immigrants in their native language or even just accompanying them to meetings, our volunteers are providing an invaluable service. They are really making a difference in the lives of these immigrants. Ryan explained that today he had called several radio stations to ask if they could announce a fundraiser that ECIRMAC is having in early March. One of the other workers explained to me that they are constantly having their funds cut, and are hoping that this fundraiser can help offset those reductions. She emphasized the importance of ECIRMAC, saying that they really are the voice of both the legal and illegal immigrants in the community. It's clear that without this center, so many of these people would simply fall by the wayside.

"Additionally, not only do they speak for the underrepresented, they provide crucial services in the immigrants' native languages, which I'm sure is priceless to the immigrants. Living in the United States, I think it's easy for Americans to forget how comforting it can be to communicate with someone in your native language. The workers at ECIRMAC certainly help to alleviate some of the linguistic stress that I can only imagine local immigrants face. After visiting there, I certainly have a renewed sense of what it means to really reach out to often-overlooked community members. The work that the refugee center does is amazing in itself, and the fact that they do it with the limited funds they have just astounds me! It was really great to meet the personnel and, of course, Ryan!

"I wanted to tell you about the fundraiser that they're having. It's a dinner at St. Pat's Catholic Church (708 Main St, in Urbana).

Thank you, Kirsten, for visiting ECIRMAC. And thanks to all the employees at volunteers at ECIRMAC for the work they do with our foreign-born community members.

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