Tag Archives: mentors

My Thoughts on Why

How difficult. How extraordinary. People come here and they don’t have any idea of what their life will be like. Husbands with wives awaiting, mothers whose children have yet to gain entrance… and those persecuted in their countries for who they are coming and hoping there is acceptance and not persecution. The world is shuffling and figuring out how best to deal with all these differences.

My parents came from Holland after WWII. Holland had been destroyed and many were looking for a better life. My mom came with her parents and siblings (except for my aunt who was already married to a Hollander) But still one of 13. Earlier, before WWI, my grandfather had lived here in CA but had to go back to serve in the military of Holland. They lived through WWII in occupied Holland but he always wanted to return to CA. My uncles and aunts worked in the underground to fight the Germans. This was 1945. And my grandfather finally made it possible to go to the USA in the late 1900’s.

To be an American. My parents brought us up on 600 acres of land in the central valley of CA with 300 milking cows. This could be thought of as a dynasty now but we were in the dairy business with 2 other uncles. And the land was flood plain and our profits were good because there were milk support prices from the feds. We grew and we brought more people over from Holland and the Azores … we grew and became successful. And if you know the dairy business you will know it is 24 hours a day 365 day a year. Growing up I remember going once a year to a “summer camp” but always being home… never going out to dinner or other diversions. … but never feeling that we were in any way deprived. However, there were times with classmates, because we foreign and “unknown”, were not accepted in the little everyday ways of sleep-overs or regular visitations. We were living in a white American community – even though we were “white”. And my parents’ accents made them different, and in some way we were made to feel “different” – even though we were white. But in this small community in the 1950’s, we were different. We lived on a farm and my parents did not have a college education. They were not lawyers or doctors and yet they paid for us to go to private Catholic schools. We only lived in the country … even though my father was the smartest man I have ever known.

A client and Jackie

Luduina’s Client (left) with her at a forum in February, 2016

So, we grew. My father insisted that we go to college … something that he had wanted for himself but could not because his world had shattered. But we all did.

And now I volunteer many years later to assist in different ways new people coming at a time when it is so much more difficult to be a citizen of this country. I work and honor their strength and beliefs. It doesn’t matter why. But I can feel the hope and desire and belief that this is a country that accepts us … in all our differences and experiences … we are all hopeful. And our lives have extraordinary possibilities.

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.