As refugees and immigrants come to our area, World Relief DuPage/Aurora plays a key role in providing a tangible welcome.  But we know that we can’t, and shouldn’t do this service alone.  The strength of “Welcoming the Stranger” to our community is that we serve in partnership with so many…volunteers, churches and community organizations.  In essence, we are the conduit that initially connects people, especially the church, with refugees and immigrants.

Daily, volunteers reach-out to new neighbors in real ways—taking an active role in seeing people transformed economically, socially, and spiritually.  According to Jamie Daling, Volunteer Mobilization Specialist, each volunteer at WRDA is a piece of a very large and complex puzzle.  Currently, there are many different ways a volunteer can serve—according to their time and talents—in addition to numerous opportunities for teams.   While our volunteers agree that everyone has something to offer and a role to play, they also feel that what they get back is so much more—citing new friendships and cross-cultural experiences.

With so many refugees living in DuPage Kane counties, one of the benefits of serving with WRDA is that you don’t have to go far to help a person in need.  In fact, one way to describe the work of WRDA is to equate it to being a missionary in your own backyard. This is true for Lawrence Thompson, who spent most of his career overseas—first as a missionary in the Philippines and then as an engineer traveling to Chile, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico.

When Lawrence retired, his plan was to return to Costa Rica and teach English; however, his wife’s health would not permit the move.  As a result, Lawrence began serving with WRDA and currently lives-out the Biblical mandate by volunteering with Immigrant Legal Services. “I enjoy interacting with immigrants—hearing their stories and getting to know them personally,” said Lawrence. Currently, in addition to volunteering with WRDA, Lawrence teaches English through a program at his church.

In May 2013, Pat Kelly led a Good Neighbor Team that was matched with a newly arrived family in Wheaton.  Together, his group shopped and gathered items for a Good Neighbor Kit and arranged for the family’s pick-up from the airport.  Along with a translator, the team settled the family into their new apartment, which included a tour of the modern appliances because the family had been living in a refugee camp. Now that the family has begun the acclimation process, Pat visits with the father weekly to work with him with his English, teach him how to pay bills on-line, and to give him driving lessons.

According to Pat, you don’t have to have well-developed skills to do this work; just being an American is enough.  “It’s really easy for us to be consumed with our own lives and so it is nice to be able to help someone in a tangible way,” said Pat.

Experiencing another culture will often mean traveling to another country, but for volunteer Dottie Mann, one of her favorite memories as a volunteer is a cross-culture dinner experience in her own community.

After being connected to a Bhutanese family as Friendship Partners, Dottie and her husband were invited to dinner.  When she and her husband arrived at the apartment, both immediate and extended family members were present; however, when it came time to eat, only she and her husband were invited to sit down.

“The food just kept coming, platter-after-platter, but we were the only ones eating even though there were 10 other people in the room,” said Dottie.

Later, Dottie learned that in the Bhutanese culture, honored guests are served dinner first and the family eats later.  While this experience was awkward at first, today Dottie and her husband enjoy re-telling the story and sharing their knowledge with others.

Dottie Mann has been affiliated with WRDA for 30 years—first as an aid with the ESL program and now as a Friendship Partner.  She considers it a privilege to help refugee families adjust to their new home—and treasures all of the connections that she has made. Although Dottie often assists with arranging doctor visits and English tutoring, she says that being a friend is more important.  By just listening to a refugee’s story, she can learn about their culture, country of origin, and their struggle for survival.

New categories of volunteer opportunities are always emerging— based on needs of our neighbors and the talents of the volunteers.  Jamie Daling truly enjoys her role with WRDA because she is continually amazed at the different types of people God raises-up to stand with us.  She considers it a privilege to work alongside such caring and dedicated volunteers.

If you would like to learn how you can get involved with WRDA as a volunteer visit www.worldreliefdupage.org/volunteer-mobilization/ or contact Jamie Daling, Volunteer Mobilization Specialist at jdaling@wr.org (630) 462-7566  x1046 in DuPage or James Pomeroy, Volunteer Coordinator, at jpomeroy@wr.org or  (630) 906-9546 x 35 in Aurora.