Category Archives: Needs

Mentors: The Key to Helping Newcomers

The key to helping refugees and asylum seekers settle in the Bay Area is the newcomers’ relationship with the volunteer Guardian Group mentors assigned to them.  Every client is given two mentors who lead the response to the client’s needs.

A Client's Gift to the Guardian GroupIdeally mentors meet refugees at the airport when they arrive and stay close to them their first days in the country, taking them to Social Security, introducing them to MUNI, helping them shop for basics, explaining recycling rules and other weird local customs, and accompanying them to their many introductory appointments with the health care system, social services, and other outlets of the helping bureaucracy.

Mentors for asylum seekers provide similar support, emphasizing services available to those who aren’t eligible for US government benefits, walking their clients through the steps to claim Healthy San Francisco care, obtain a checking account, and explore available free English-language classes.

The relationship between the client and his/her mentors can become strong.  LGBTI new arrivals have no local family and no local ethnic community to rely on.  So, mentors go beyond the technical task of decoding local social norms and become an important social contact.  They are the person the new arrival can eat a meal with, call when they are confused or lonely, or ask embarrassing questions of. Often mentors are trusted enough to hear some of the stories, fears, and flashbacks of the refugee/asylum seeker.

Birthday CakeMentors make sure that their clients are invited to Christmas dinner, attend the Gay Pride parade, and celebrate their birthdays.  Mentors show their friends how to find and apply for a job, and they are supportive when their client sends in 25 applications and doesn’t receive a single rejection response.

Mentors are a stable, non-judgmental, non-anxious presence in the lives of refugees and asylum seekers.  They are a safe person for the refugee or asylum seeker to express frustration at.  Clients can get angry at their mentors when they are really feeling powerless and disorientated. Mentors don’t react to misdirected anger and remain committed to their client’s well being.

Mentors plan for future housing, job training, and schooling. They see if the Guardian Group should step in an provide Clipper cards and cell phones for a few months.  They are available for discussions on dating and safe sex, and they warn newcomers about America’s fixation with illegal recreational drugs whose possession would mean unstoppable expulsion from the country.

Being a mentor is intense, unpredictable, and important.

Galen Workman, Apex and Zenith

Galen Workman, a mentor, with two assistant mentors, Apex and Zenith

The Guardian Group is now recruiting volunteer mentors so we can help more refugees and asylum seekers.  Please contact Galen Workman (415.647.8830), our volunteer coordinator, to talk more about mentoring.  Ask him about his experiences!

Requirements for mentors

  • Mentors are asked to commit to a 9-month relationship with their assigned client.
  • Mentors need to be available to accompany their clients to appointments, or just hang out with them, at least 10 hours a week when the client first arrives in San Francisco.
  • Mentors need to be available for some weekday daytime appointments – or to arrange others to accompany the client to mid-day meetings with institutions.
  • People willing to be mentors agree to attend mentor training sessions before being assigned a client.

What Mentors Are NOT Expected to Do:

  • Provide cash or items with their own personal money
  • Cancel out-of-area travel plans or be available 24 x7. Each client is assigned two mentors so the schedule of needs can be shared.
Gay Pride Flag

Happy Pride! and PLEASE Help Us Find Housing!

Our 31-year-old gay Tunisian asylum seeker needs a place to stay starting about July 4th.
Please help!

As you talk to people at the Parade, at parties, and at worship services, please mention that we are looking for housing.

We need a room with access to shared bathing and cooking facilities. Ideally the housing would be in San Francisco and have the potential to extend if the host and asylum seeker are compatible.

Anyone talking today with empty nesters? Retirees with now-unused home office space? Simply generous individuals?

This is a day of celebration and fun! Let’s have a great time. And, please don’t be bashful about mentioning our urgent need for shelter.

This website,, is a good place to point people to, and, of course, I would be happy to give any additional details.

My office number is 415.647.8830 and my email address is [email protected].

Thank you… and have a Supremely Happy Day!

— Galen

Sponsor a Newcomer

Sponsor a Newcomer with a monthly electronic funds transfer (EFT) to the Guardian Group at First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco

Sponsor a Newcomer

$15/month =  medication/toiletries
$25/month =  Clipper public transit card
$35/month = emergency groceries
$45/month =  cell phone service

If you’re ready to help, visit the donation page, and enter the amount of your gift on the line “Refugee Guardian Group“.  And, if we can provide additional information, please contact us!

Thank you!

New Page About Housing Added

We spent a lot of time and energy worrying about housing for our refugees.

It is extremely difficult to find appropriate, affordable places for our clients in San Francisco or even in nearby towns!

Today we added a page to this website dedicated to the issue of housing. What are we looking for? What are the common challenges?

Please check out our housing page.  Let us know if you can help.  If you cannot provide housing yourself, please share the page with your friends by email, Facebook, Twitter… everywhere.

We Need Your Help to Continue Our Work with Refugees

This week I was very very happy to have greeted a newly arrived refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He has been living in South Africa for three years, and was finally scheduled on a flight to the United States.

He is a transgendered, a gay rights activist, strong, bright, sweet, and a real pleasure to know.

Suitcase with map of the world


He arrived late Thursday, and Friday was a whirlwind of bureaucracy: filing for a Social Security number, getting local cell phone SIM and plan, experiencing the joys of MUNI and the Clipper Card system. Everything went well.


It is great fun to show someone like him around San Francisco, a place his has heard about, and to show him the different people and styles blending on our streets!

But, I need your help to continue our help.

The church’s Guardian Group assisting Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transsexual Intersex refugees settle in San Francisco needs money. A reasonably good size amount of money.

Piggy Bank for DonationsIt’s been over a year since I personally have asked for money for the group. Frankly, we are pretty tightfisted and I didn’t see a need for more donations. In addition, our initial refugee clients have been in the country for over a year so their need for financial support has gone down.

Earlier this year, before our refugee from the Congo arrived, we started helping a Nigerian asylum seeker, a Ugandan asylum seeker, and a Russian asylum seeker who recently was granted asylum. Two of these men have received/are receiving help to pay for food, Clipper (transit) cards, and other similar items. We have funded these items from past gifts.

But, we need more money now. We have roughly $3,000 in our accounts, and we will need to spend about $6,000 in the next few months.

  • Our experience tell us that order to provide support for things like bus passes and basic essentials in high-cost San Francisco we will need on the average, $2,000 to assist a person his first year here. We don’t have any costs yet for supporting the refugee who arrived this week, but he’s mentioned wanting socks, rice, and other outlandish materialistic items! So, we’re budgeting $2,000 for his needs.
  • One of the men we help is seeking asylum and therefore cannot work and earn money. This week I took him shopping for his food: rice, vegetables, sandwich meat, onions, cheese.  Modest stuff, but $35.13 of modest stuff. Oh yeah, another $9.23 for protective spray for his suede shoes, and we loaded his Clipper Card up with $60.

    This is not a lot money, but he’ll need ongoing support like this each week until he is granted asylum and able to work. Waiting for the immigration court to rule took seven months for the last man we helped. Even at our careful rate of expenditure of about $40 a week, plus some lumps for transit and other needs, we will need $1,500 or so to adequately help him survive in San Francisco… at this assumes that his current free housing offer is extended until he’s eligible to work.

  • One of our longer-term refugees has painful teeth. Last week he went to a dental school and even at the teaching facility the estimate for care is over $2,200. He needs three crowns, and Medi-Cal covers only fillings or extraction. We don’t want this man in his 20’s to have three teeth pulled.

Yes, we have immediate needs that require for your help.

How to Give

Helping HandsWould you please consider a gift today to help us help LGBTI refugees? A generous one??!

  • Give online.
    When you are at the donation page in the link, look for “Refugee Guardian Group” midway down the column of recipients.We appreciate whatever you can give, and ongoing monthly donations are especially helpful in letting us budget.
  • Send a check in.
    Please put a large “REFUGEE GUARDIAN GROUP” in the memo area so the money gets into our account. Send the check to: First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, 1187 Franklin Street, San Francisco, CA 94109.

Thank you for being so responsive and kind.