A Day to Remember: A World Refugee Day Story from Eastern Massachusetts

Story by Lynn Levine, Eastern Massachusetts Chapter, Program Manager for International Services 

From left to right: Patrick Choi, International Services Intern; Christian Di Meo, RFL Caseworker; Elaine Tassinari, IHL Symposium Lead; Lynn Levine, Program Manager; and Dr. Susan Berger, International Services Volunteer and long time RFL Caseworker - 25 years!

From left to right: Patrick Choi, International Services Intern; Christian Di Meo, RFL Caseworker; Elaine Tassinari, IHL Symposium Lead; Lynn Levine, Program Manager; and Dr. Susan Berger, International Services Volunteer and long time RFL Caseworker - 25 years!

I have a confession to make. I’m terrified of hosting parties. I’m afraid that no one will come.

Such was my mindset as I, with the help of my intern, Patrick Choi, plodded through the details of organizing our World Refugee Day Reception, the International Services program’s first outward facing, public event welcoming potential community partners into our “home.” When I arrived into the role of Program Manager just eight scant months ago, the International Program was frankly, bare bones.

I had just completed implementation of the Restoring Family Links Minigrant program, which allowed me to build a team of trained international caseworkers and crackpot partnership-builders in less than six months. Still, the outreach component of our work – which is the essential building block to all of the good we do for our foreign-born and refugee neighbors – moved forward at a snails pace. So when I learned of the World Refugee Day grant, I knew instinctively that this could provide a nice kick-start to our outreach efforts.

From left to right: Vera Vicente-Meek, Red Cross Disaster Volunteer; Nancy Hess, RFL Caseworker and Outreach Lead

From left to right: Vera Vicente-Meek, Red Cross Disaster Volunteer; Nancy Hess, RFL Caseworker and Outreach Lead

Just one thing: anybody know how to plan a party?

In working with Patrick, a student with more expertise in economics than party planning, I felt like the blind leading the blind. But in the end we managed to make sure that we had all of the elements necessary to coax potential guests out of their offices and into our building.

One of the challenges, besides the delivery of green tablecloths from the caterer rather than the elegant white we had envisioned, was that there had been a bit of triple scheduling in the building. The other challenge was that the Boston Marathon bombing turned the building into the headquarters of our disaster response operation. This translated, in practical terms, into our community room being stuffed to the gills with tables, chairs, leftover sheltering supplies and other detritus collected to support the DRO.

But we got it done, and today, the kudos and thanks are pouring into my email inbox.

To give you an idea of what we accomplished: Josiane Martinez, the Executive Director of the State of Mass' Office for Refugees and Immigrants was there. As far as I’m concerned, the entire affair was a success because she and I had the opportunity to meet. We are already planning a follow-up to discuss areas of overlap and partnerships, including education on our services to her constituents, and serving on a new committee that seeks to create momentum behind helping new arrivals find affordable housing.

From left to right: Dr. Susan Berger, International Services Volunteer and long time RFL Caseworker; Dr. Mio Leavitt, International Services Volunteer and long time RFL Caseworker

From left to right: Dr. Susan Berger, International Services Volunteer and long time RFL Caseworker; Dr. Mio Leavitt, International Services Volunteer and long time RFL Caseworker

Other guests included representatives from the Latino Civic Education Initiative, the Bosnian Community Center for Resource Development, Suffolk University and the Fletcher School at Tufts. Since we are just beginning to grow the beginnings of an International Services-led Symposium Series program as part of our International Humanitarian Law initiative, representation from academia will be invaluable in developing issue topics, accessing expert speakers and getting the Red Cross name out into the community as a thought leader in humanitarian themes.

The other thing we accomplished is raising awareness for our International Services program among our staff and volunteer peers! This is not an insignificant feat, and the better recognized the program is, particularly among our colleagues, the better position we are in to accomplish our work effectively.

I am continually amazed at the work we do, and I am continually humbled by my role in implementing programs and services that truly represent the best that the American Red Cross, and indeed, the American people have to offer.