Aug 30 2023
Erin is one of CWS’s R&P (Reception and Placement) interns this summer. Although her title also includes the ECAR (Every Campus a Refuge) intern/liaison between JMU and CWS, but most of her work is done at CWS’s office with the case managers. Her interest in the refugee experience was sparked by a class she took at JMU, where she’s majoring in Justice Studies. “I've learned so much and never know how to put it into words.” Erin said of her experience.
As for many of the interns and staff in the CWS Harrisonburg office, every day looks different. In general, Erin works as an assistant to the case managers in the R&P program. “I'm basically helping and assisting the case managers with families that are just arriving,” Erin explained. Her work ranges from completing government paperwork, to client home visits, grocery shopping for/with clients, and driving kids to summer camps partnering with CWS, among many other tasks. It’s definitely been a summer of “firsts.” Erin said, “I never would have heard of Kinyarwanda [language] or been able to identify it. I was dealing with a client yesterday who only speaks Farsi…I’ve never experienced that.”
Besides learning about the resettlement processes and R&P program, her intern experience has allowed Erin to view Harrisonburg in a new light. “My perception of Harrisonburg has definitely changed. The college bubble is so tight, and it rarely ever bursts, so I think it's nice to see Harrisonburg as more of a city rather than just a hub for JMU,” she said. Through CWS, Erin’s been able to witness firsthand the community’s commitment to serving vulnerable populations, like refugees and immigrants. “There's so many events and organizations and interconnectedness in the city. It’s really cool to see everybody work together” Erin said.
Her perspective of refugee resettlement work has also changed. “I came into CWS with a misconception for some reason… I sort of approached this internship thinking that it would be emotional, because we're dealing with people who have gone through [difficult] things,” she said. Erin continued, “ But…we're not looking at them as people who have been through hard things, we're looking at them as people who can do hard things.” Erin’s experience has definitely changed her view of the work CWS does. “It's a shift in perspective of just believing that these people are capable of anything, and that they deserve our full attention and any resources that we can get them. And Harrisonburg does such a good job of doing that,” she said.
Another aspect of her internship she’s enjoyed is getting to know the people and witnessing their resilience. “I love the people that I work with…They're all very different, and I love hearing about people's backstories,” Erin said. “It's really inspiring to see people that continue to do [refugee resettlement work], even though it's really hard. You see people get burnt out…but they keep coming back, because they know that [this work] is important and it matters, because this is people's lives that we're dealing with,” she said.
For the future, her work over the summer has revealed new opportunities. “I think one of the other great parts about this internship is that I feel like I'm seeing many different sides of things. And I have a lot of time to just sort of wonder about, ‘Oh, why do we only have this amount of money allotted to them? What’s the policy behind that?’ This has been good to sort of spark my imagination of what else is out there…whether that be the policy side of things, or maybe more towards law,” Erin said. Based on her experience with this end of resettlement, she said, “I think it would also be amazing to serve at a refugee camp overseas for like a year or two.”
As a takeaway from her internship experience, Erin recommends students to get involved in their communities. “It is so important to understand and be involved with the area that you're at, because I feel like so many young adults…rarely see what is out there in their community, and Harrisonburg has just become like a whole different place for me,” she explained.
Thank you, Erin, for all of your hard work this summer. All of the staff at CWS Harrisonburg can’t wait to see what you accomplish in the future!