Author Archives: Galen Workman

Changing Lives

I was grateful to be invited to give a reflection on my experience with the Guardian Group at the Worship Service of the San Jose Unitarian Church on May 22, 2016.

After the shootings Sunday morning at Pulse in Orlando, my gratitude in being able to help these refugees and asylum seekers is only greater.

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.

Warplanes Over San Francisco Celebrate Fleet Week

This week is “Fleet Week” in San Francisco.  The US Navy assigns war ships to San Francisco and gives tours of the ships and generally shows off its power. In addition, the Navy’s exhibition flight group, The Blue Angels, offers a free air show on the Bay Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Blue Angels

The Navy’s Flight Demonstration team, the “Blue Angels” performs their delta formation over San Francisco Bay. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Ryan Courtade (RELEASED)

Starting today the Blue Angels will conduct practice flights over San Francisco.  They are really showing off and drumming up attention for the shows on the weekend.

Formations of fighter jets will be very low in the skies over San Francisco on and off through Sunday.  There will be moments of very loud flyovers and zooming airplanes.

Because the United States has not been the site of arm conflict in 160 years, the sight and sound of warplanes overhead thrills and excites children and adults.  It is showy and festive. It is not scary to the US population.

I realize that you come from areas where armed conflict is present and fighter jets overhead signals danger.  The planes don’t have that same meaning in San Francisco, fortunately.  Please do not be afraid when you see and hear the planes this weekend!

Give contact us if you have any questions or concerns.

Old-Fashioned Networking Works

Old-fashioned word-of-mouth, talk-to-friends networking has found just-in-time temporary housing for our 31-year-old asylum seeker from Tunisia.

A man who met Mr. T (the Tunisian) at an open house hosted by T’s host for a week, mentioned to someone he knows of our need.  Although the woman hadn’t met Mr. T. she responded by volunteering to let Mr. T stay with her until mid-September.


All done without the help of Mark Zuckerberg or the Twitter bird… although I very much appreciate how my friends helped spread the word of our plight online.

For now, we are off Red Alert!  Our sensors are scanning for a place in September (and that’s also the last month our refugee from the Congo at his present place.  I guess we are on Yellow Alert (which is better than Battlestar Galactica’s Condition Orange).

The lion in the photo is guarding the gardens a block away from Mr. T’s new place.

Lion Guarding Sutro Gardens

Lion guarding the gardens near our asylum seeker’s host’s home

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