At Jewish Family & Children’s Service, we are fortunate to be able to secure the assistance and talent of many young adults through the AmeriCorps program. AmeriCorps personnel work at JF&CS in several of our departments, and offer invaluable skills. Justin Shao is an AmeriCorps volunteer who came to JF&CS last September to work in the Immigration Legal Services department.
Justin was raised in Pittsburgh and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with an interest in history, urban studies and international development. He has been a community organizer, traveled all over the world, and has lived abroad.
Returning to Pittsburgh not too long ago, he decided the timing was right for his application to AmeriCorps. Looking over the descriptions of open positions, he chose JF&CS because our work with immigrants and refugees aligned with his interest in world affairs.
At JF&CS, Justin serves as an Immigration Legal Services intake coordinator, often answering a client’s first call or email for assistance. He determines the nature of their need, which may be a challenge due to navigating language barriers and complex circumstances. The legal services team reviews these cases and decides how to proceed. Justin also schedules meetings and interviews for clients and legal representatives (some staff and many volunteer attorneys) and manages a lot of case paperwork.
Justin says he was surprised at the amount of need for these services in this city and that there was such an active international community. He’s heard dozens of languages, and he occasionally has been able to interpret for some Chinese clients. Growing up with first generation American parents, he is sensitive to the challenges immigrants face in their journey to citizenship.
“I have gotten to see another side of Pittsburgh that I didn’t know existed,” he said. “Through programs like ISAC (Immigrant Services and Connections, a multi-agency collaborative effort to centralize immigrant services), I was amazed that there were interpreters for so many languages, indicating a much more diverse population in this area than I had realized.”
JF&CS’s Immigrant Legal Services department helps immigrants navigate the legal journey to American citizenship and resolve problems that come up along the way. With the issue of immigration so prevalent in the news, calls for assistance have increased. And so has awareness. We’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the large number of attorneys and community members who want to volunteer to help our immigrant community.
“I am impressed by the people who have worked so hard to come here,” Justin says. “Despite formidable challenges, they are rising above adversity, working hard to learn English, and doing everything within their power to make a better life for themselves and their family. And they are by and large extremely patriotic in how they feel about this country. Given the circumstances so many have come from, they notice and appreciate many things we take for granted. When you attend an oath ceremony (the swearing in of new citizens), you hear so many stories of courage and perseverance.”
Legal services are available on a sliding fee scale for legal immigrants and their families. For assistance, please call 412-904-5966, or email us.