Jump-Start in Michigan: Restoring Family Links in the Mitten State

Story by Daniel Kim, International Services and SAF Associate, Grand Rapids, Michigan


Michigan, the mitten state, is a state with some of the highest reconnecting families needs in the United States. It resettles the fourth largest number of refugees in the US each year, a population often in need of these services. After having a huge Restoring Family Links (RFL) Casework Training in Michigan on May 12th, 2015, we have adequate capacities in every chapter and office in Michigan Region to help reconnect separated families. In Michigan, there are 6 chapters: Northern Michigan, Southwest Michigan, West Michigan, East Michigan, Southeast Michigan, and East Central Bay and each chapter has 3-4 different offices. Thus, you can easily find and contact the American Red Cross across the state of Michigan.  

Since last year, Mary VanderGoot, Restoring Family Links Mentor, and I have started setting up the RFL Development Plan. This six-part series will discuss our plans to ensure that every family in Michigan separated from loved ones internationally knows about our reconnecting families service and is able to access it. 

By this month, we will have six Restoring Family Links teams in every chapter in Michigan. The teams are composed of 4-6 members and they are mainly working for Restoring Family Links casework and community outreach. This includes reaching out to other Red Crossers to ensure everyone is aware of this service (which we call in-reach). Through these teams, we seek to increase the number of caseworkers and support volunteers within each chapter's offices. The 6 teams will have monthly teleconferencing meetings so that all teams can move through this development at the same time and at the same pace.

The mitten state is ready to jump-start our Restoring Family Links program. With our six Restoring Family Links Teams, we will "feed two birds with one hand" and develop both casework and outreach across the state of Michigan! The next story of Jump-Start RFL series will be about the Restoring Family Links In-Reach. Please stay tuned!!! 

Welcome Katie Gray!

Please join me in welcoming our new Restoring Family Links (RFL) Training Coordinator, Katie Gray in her new role on the RFL headquarters team, she will oversee development of training tools for the chapter network, manage the RFL Instructor Roster and coordinate national training events.

Katie comes to us with over five years of experience in the refugee, migration and humanitarian services field. She has worked with refugee and immigrant populations, coordinating and developing cross-cultural education and skill building programing, for the International Institute of St. Louis, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC). 

She first learned about the Restoring Family Links program when members of the outreach team at National Headquarters came to present about the program at the IRC office in Silver Spring, Maryland.  While serving as a refugee caseworker and program coordinator, Katie encountered many clients who were devastated due to the lack of contact or lost connection with their loved ones.  Immediately she became interested in how refugee and migrant serving organizations could partner more with RFL services to assist in the reunification of families.  Therefore, when the opening with the RFL Program at the American Red Cross National Headquarters became available, she embraced the opportunity to make a broader impact in the migration and humanitarian service field. 

In addition to her professional experience, she holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of San Francisco, California and a Global Master of Arts degree in International Relations from Webster University. Katie is very excited to join the RFL team services and looking forward to the opportunity to working with all of the RFL volunteers, mentors and staff across the chapter networks! 

Welcome, Katie! The whole RFL team at National Headquarters is excited to have you join us! 

Restoring Family Links Instructor: Becoming a Bridge of Global Justice and Humanity

The newest group of Restoring Family Links Instructors

The newest group of Restoring Family Links Instructors

Written by Daniel Kim, International Services and SAF Associate, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Earlier this year, a group of humanitarian practitioners gathered together to become Restoring Family Links Instructors. Around 23 participants came to the Nevada Region offices in Las Vegas, Nevada from all over the country with a vision of global justice, human dignity, and humanity. Our three day training was designed with workshops, teach-back sessions, group projects and simulation activities that focused on the Restoring Family Links (RFL) program and how to train volunteers and staff in our community in this service.

Looking back at the RFL Instructor Training, the program was very organized and systematic. All the trainees were required to take the updated RFL online caseworker training and to review the two key documents used in conducting the casework: the Availability by Country and the Direction and Guidance Manual. With that pre-requisite work, the potential instructors could be prepared to acquire the depth or knowledge within the in-class instructor training promptly and proficiently.

Daniel Kim with RFL Instructors, Michelle McSweeney and Elissa Maish

Daniel Kim with RFL Instructors, Michelle McSweeney and Elissa Maish

The training was taught by two RFL mentors and instructors: Elissa Maish from the Arizona, New Mexico, and El Paso Region; and Michelle McSweeney from the Northern Illinois Region. The first day of the program focused on going through the RFL Casework Course. During the day’s first session, the highlighted topic was Cross Cultural Communication. As a Korean American, the topic of communication with multi-cultural clients was very informative and interesting. The instructors delivered very realistic information by showing a video clip and many other simulations of interviewing with international clients. Then, we learned about initial case in-take through three scenarios. In the scenarios, we conducted role-play activities regarding determining RFL eligibility, availability, and delivery of news.

On the second day, the 22 trainees were broken into two groups and assigned sections of the RFL Casework Course. Each group then had to teach-back a session of the course. This allowed each participant to teach and present a section of what they learned from the first day of training. After the presentation, we had a feedback session, so that we could improve the way we teach the course in the future. As I expected, we encouraged each other by giving huge compliments and applause after the presentations and feedback sessions. At the end of the second day, I knew I had gained more knowledge of Restoring Family Links and am now prepared to teach volunteers in my region how to conduct RFL casework.


On the last day, the training focused on conducting outreach and working in the database. The RFL caseworkers have their own outreach know-hows. So, in the session, we shared our experiences with outreach to learn how to most effectively reach out to our communities. After that, we met the National Headquarters Caseworkers and discussed the current issues and future plans. Talking about outreach, the database and meeting with the caseworkers was very helpful to draw a bigger picture of the Restoring Family Links program and its capabilities.

After this training, I know I am ready to make the humanitarian world bigger by spreading the word of the Restoring Family Links program. I am so thankful to the American Red Cross for giving me this amazing opportunity that boosted my passion and love for Restoring Family Links and all humanitarian work! I am excited to be a trainer for the Restoring Family Links program, and am happy to share this excitement with others who want to get energized about the program!  

Bringing Together the Here and the There

Story by Jack Wilson, Program Manager, Dallas, TX

In Restoring Family Links, we often talk about the importance of understanding other cultures. As caseworkers – and as humanitarians in general – we empathize with those who have endured hardship in other places or may encounter difficulties adjusting to life having come from other countries. It’s vital, though, that we remind ourselves that there really are no others. Our clients no matter where they’ve come from are part of our community. They are us.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent movement maintains its level of trust throughout the world partly due to our global reach. That worldwide presence is what allows us working with Restoring Family Links to do what we do – to reconnect families separated by war, natural disaster, and migration across thousands of miles and often years and years. However, that trust is rooted not only in the Red Cross being there but also (and maybe even more importantly) in being here.

Recently, I was able to meet with a brand new team of volunteers in El Paso, Texas, for a weekend of Restoring Family Links training. The weekend started with everyone excited to learn about the work of the Red Cross there. We discussed cultural differences and processes and norms that might be confusing to us but are normal there. This team knew where its impact would be greatest, though, and the discussion always came back to what we could – no should! No, no WILL! – be doing here. The concept of the other disappeared from the conversation as lines between clients and caseworkers and Restoring Family Links and Volunteer Services and Disaster Cycle Services were erased. They (no matter the context) are us.

We talk about the importance of outreach, and we are not wrong to do so. This team in El Paso went beyond that. The volunteers – all very new to the Red Cross – didn’t discuss “getting out into the community,” but instead talked about raising awareness within the community from within the community. There was no there, there was only us right here. It was inspiring to see this group come together and plan not how to “find clients” or even to “find volunteers” but to bring the entire community together around a common need felt by so many here – the need to communicate with family in uncertain times when it feels like family is out of reach – and to meet that need together.

Restoring Family Links is about breaking down barriers to reconnect families. This new RFL team in El Paso is off and running, ready to do their part to alleviate human suffering. It isn’t what we can do for them. It’s what we can all do together… right here

Kentucky and Restoring Family Links Training

Mike Farrar (bottom left) with the group of newly trained Restoring Family Links caseworkers.

Mike Farrar (bottom left) with the group of newly trained Restoring Family Links caseworkers.

Story by Mike Farrar, RFL Mentor and Advocate and SAF Volunteer, Long Beach, CA

Recently, I was given a wonderful assignment to travel to the state of Kentucky to train a group of new Restoring Family Links caseworkers and a couple of caseworkers who had been working with disaster services. The day before the training I met with their International Services and Services to the Armed Forces (IS/SAF) Manager Lynn Romans, a dedicated Red Crosser with well over 20 years of service, but brand new to Restoring Family Links (RFL).

The first course of action was getting Lynn acquainted with the RFL case management system so we could start looking at her cases. An important point here is that before Lynn was tasked to become the IS/SAF Manager, all RFL casework was being handled by an amazing volunteer by the name of Carrie in Disaster Services. After spending some time going through a few cases and a little bit of training, we understood that her new team had some work to do, and that was a good thing.

So Saturday morning I arrived at the chapter, fighting below freezing temperatures (for dramatic effect). Keep in mind that I am from California so anything below 50 degrees is kind of freezing anyway. We started the training with 10 potential caseworkers for Kentucky and one caseworker who drove down from Indiana to take the course.

The class was very diverse in experience, having long-time volunteers, staff and brand new volunteers. We were even fortunate enough to have volunteers who were former refugees, two from Bhutan and one from Syria. This made for very informative discussions, and their input was priceless.

I was really impressed by the classroom participation when it came to asking for feedback on questions I would ask and on the different exercises. The class was quick to pick up on how to use Restoring Family Links casework guidance such as the Availability by Country and the RFL Direction and Guidance. When we got to the “Casework Interview Practice” part of the course, their Hollywood-side really came out. Carrie and Mirza played the Client and Caseworker roles, and what a performance they gave. After that we continued through scenarios on delivery of news.

Training participants use the case of Mr. Kasongo as practice for searching for clients in need of reconnecting family services.

Training participants use the case of Mr. Kasongo as practice for searching for clients in need of reconnecting family services.

Later that day, we got to put all that hard work to use through a simulated neighborhood search for the all-elusive client, Mr. Kasongo. The class participants became everything from owners of a local ethnic restaurant to refugee resettlement agency workers. After 30 minutes of searching for Mr. Kasongo, our Red Cross caseworkers could not find him.

We regrouped to discuss the challenges and successes of the exercise. The two trainees who played the roles of the Red Cross caseworkers said their overall feeling was that of uncertainty, not knowing where to start, which is totally expected from a new caseworker. But we talked about the different steps caseworkers can take to begin a search, including things they did within the exercise.

We then debriefed the volunteers playing the roles at the various stations where the caseworkers conducted their search. They emphasized the importance of being inquisitive when conducting a search as they had a fair amount of information they could have given the caseworkers, but were supposed to only offer it up if asked directly about it. Through this pretend case, Mr. Kasango isn’t meant to be found. Rather, it helps caseworkers understand the opportunities and challenges that will most likely happen when conducting Restoring Family Links casework.

We finished up the day with a few more exercises and discussed why and how to make good referrals. We took a group picture discussed what’s next for their team and took a look at their regions’ cases. There we noticed how they have such a large Bosnian case load to start working on, which the entire group was excited to start working on.

As for me it was on a plane and back to 70 and above temperatures.