Raising Awareness of the Refugee Experience

When we think about trauma, it’s difficult to imagine the scope of what Pittsburgh’s refugee community has been through. These individuals and families have fled their homes from fear of persecution, imprisonment or death simply because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Many have faced unspeakable and unimaginable acts of torture and trauma. Some enter the United States with little or no education or English, and some have spent their entire lives in refugee camps. Our refugees’ stories can truly make us feel grateful for our freedoms.

Last week, JF&CS, through the support of the UPMC Center for Inclusion and the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, and in collaboration with the National Partnership for Community Training (NPCT), presented a one-day training seminar, “Building Awareness, Skills & Knowledge: A Community Response to the Torture Survivor Experience,” to help raise awareness of the traumas refugees have faced and to support service providers working with survivors of torture or severe trauma.

More than 120 service providers, including refugee resettlement agencies, social workers, educators, lawyers, physicians and individuals working in the service community, attended the seminar, held at UPMC’s Shadyside Hospital. This tremendous turnout speaks to the powerful commitment of our service provider community to providing the best care and resources possible to aid in our refugees’ transitions to the United States.

Speakers included Leslie Aizenman, JF&CS’s director of refugee services, Kristen Guskovict, director of the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture, a program of Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services and Jim Lavelle, LICSW, the director and Co-founder of International Programs and Community Organizing for the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, on topics ranging from understanding the types of torture or trauma suffered by a refugee to stress management techniques for service providers.

JF&CS refugee services works to resettle refugees granted access to America and Pittsburgh, providing for their basic needs and acculturation into our community and workforce. We also provide support to refugees coming to Pittsburgh who had been resettled originally in other U.S. cities.

From left: JF&CS President & CEO, Aryeh Sherman, Jim Lavelle, Director and Co-founder of International Programs and Community Organizing for the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, Leslie Aizenman, JF&CS Director of Refugee Services and Kristen Guskovict, Director of the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture, a program of Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services.

This year alone, through the incredible work of our refugee staff and the tremendous help of our volunteers, JF&CS has welcomed and resettled more than 160 refugees to Pittsburgh, and expects to resettle 60 more before the year is through, and has helped an additional 200 individuals with employment assistance.

JF&CS’s refugee department is driven by the committed work of our volunteer base.  More than 100 volunteers have donated in excess of 1,000 volunteer hours, providing weekly in-home visits, helping new arrivals learn English, helping refugee children with homework and so much more.

You can help JF&CS provide services for refugees by collecting and donating household items and clothing, volunteering to visit with refugee families to practice English language conversation, offering homework help or by becoming a workshop leader for our “How to Live in America” workshops.

To learn more about JF&CS refugee services, visit our website. To volunteer or to find more ways you can help support JF&CS’s refugee programs and refugees in our community, please contact Leslie Aizenman at laizenman@jfcspgh.org, or call 412-422-7200.

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