How to Help

700 more refugees drowned.

And good people wonder what to do.

You can give money, of course. But a lot of people can’t afford to give much. Maybe you’d like to help more, or more directly. In that case, as the former foster mom of four South Sudanese refugees, a.k.a., “Lost Boys,” and former manager of a couple of Boston-based refugee microenterprise programs, I have a suggestion: give your time and skills.

Find a local immigrant or refugee group—or simply an individual or family–and spend a few hours a week or month helping them get health care, enroll their kids in school, learn English (or whatever the main language is in your locale), get into college, find jobs, start businesses.

If you’ve got a skill to share, such as carpentry, auto mechanics, sewing, or gardening, find refugees who are similarly inclined and work with them to develop their skills and employability.

If you’re part of a profession, such as programming, law, medicine, accounting, or engineering, help a young person enter your field.

Please note that some groups of refugees, like the Iraqis, tend to be highly educated; and also some individuals from other groups. There are often credential and other barriers to their practicing their profession in their new country, but you can help them navigate the system and figure out alternatives.

Even if you think you don’t have anything to teach, I promise you you have. Immigrants and refugees often need help in areas native-born people take for granted, including things like how to how to be a wise consumer or apply for a job (both offline and online). Just show up and ask what’s needed.

The rewards of this kind of volunteering are rich, and the ROI is as high as any I know of. You typically help not only the person(s) themselves, but their extended family here and at home. (Because of remittances and also communication of information and strategies.) You also build a lot of cross-cultural appreciation and understanding, as the pic of a couple of 3-footers showing some 6.5-footers how to play Twister attests. (The 3-footers are my niece and nephew, who are somewhat bigger now).

To find a group, Google “YOUR TOWN refugee assistance.” Or, contact your local community college or religious organizations for leads. If you can’t find your niche email me and I’ll be happy to help.

twister 3

31 replies
  1. 1
    Hillary Rettig says:

    Very nice!

  2. 2
    Luthe says:

    @srv: Every so often you prove to be a troll of hidden depths. *tips hat*

  3. 3
    Miss Bianca says:

    @srv: I wish I had $100 to spare, I’d take you up on that offer. Guess I’m just going to have to keep doing circus classes at the immigrant housing complex instead!

  4. 4
    Hillary Rettig says:

    @Miss Bianca: teaching trapeze and such?

  5. 5
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Hillary Rettig: tumbling, trapeze, clowning. Mostly I just raise the money for it and do the odd bit of spotting – the instructors with the real mad skillz lead the classes!

  6. 6
    Troublesome Carp fka Geeno says:

    @Miss Bianca: Sounds fun

  7. 7
    Hillary Rettig says:

    @Miss Bianca: so cool. clowns (not the creepy kind) are universal. my kids used to crack up so hard over The Three Stooges.

  8. 8
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    Just sent $35, and wish it could be more. Thank you for your generous matching gift.

    ETA: And thank you, Hillary Rettig, for putting up this thread.

  9. 9
    BillinGlendaleCA says:

    @Miss Bianca: So your parents really were serious when they threatened to sell you to the circus?

  10. 10
    Miss Bianca says:

    @BillinGlendaleCA: Yup!

    In all seriousness, work with refugees is kind of a thing with us…and we did have a trip to Jordan planned for this fall, to visit and teach in this place:

    But I’m not sure where we stand with that one right now – last I heard from our director, the trip is being postponed.

  11. 11
    Hillary Rettig says:

    @Miss Bianca: do you go with a religious group?

  12. 12
    Hillary Rettig says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: You’re welcome!

  13. 13
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Hillary Rettig: Salida Circus. Part of the social circus movement. Our director trained with -and ran for a number of years -the Belfast Community Circus, which was founded to get Catholic and Protestant kids together. Still going after 31 years! Salida Circus is based on their model.

  14. 14
    Origuy says:

    A friend on Facebook posted a rant about phony charities earlier today and someone suggested using Charity Navigator so I checked out Mercy Corps. They have a four-star rating, if anyone was wondering. I kicked in $35. I’ll reply to that post as well, suggesting them.

  15. 15
    jackie says:

    Some churches have weekend afternoons — often Sundays — when immigrants can come in and get help from volunteers. One person I know volunteers to help fill out forms, help with math issues, fill out tax returns, write resumes, fill out job applications, etc. All very useful. Another with a medical background listens to health question & directs to resources. (Not practicing medicine, mostly just medical to lay translating. Of course translators are also needed. It is a Catholic one here. Worth checking.

  16. 16
    Wyliecoat says:

    @srv: just put in 50 bucks. Thanks for the’s so helpful when someone had already vetted a charity.

  17. 17
    Hillary Rettig says:

    @Miss Bianca: omg why am I just learning about this now?! so awesome!

  18. 18
    Hillary Rettig says:

    @jackie: good to know – thanks.

  19. 19
    Barry says:

    @srv: I will kick in $35 later this evening.

  20. 20
    Formerly disgruntled Clinton supporter says:

    Thanks for this, Hillary!

  21. 21
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Origuy: Charity Navigator is an excellent resource for checking out charities. The non-profit I had worked at once had a top ranking from them; sometime between now and when I left Learning Leaders, they shrank in size by a good 50%, and moved. But I remember sending them the materials they requested from us so they could analysis us. They get the Form 990 from the IRS directly and do not ask the organization financial questions that could be fudged. They work off of the IRS provided information.

  22. 22

    Thanks for this post, Hillary.

  23. 23
    Barry says:


  24. 24
    Troublesome Carp fka Geeno says:

    So the next thread has gotten 250+ comments while this one languishes. Yes, thanks especially to srv, much good has been done, but c’mon this community is better than that. Unfortunately, I am still riding some financial unsettlement – I’ll be fine in the long run, but paycheck to paycheck for a couple months until dust settles, if it does – or I’d be announcing my own donation.
    I realize lots of people are in a similar boat to mine, but I was hoping for more activity here.

  25. 25
    PurpleGirl says:

    A reminder to people who want to contribute clothes or household items about usability and suitability: Back in the mid-1980s when I was attending a Lutheran Congregation, we sponsored a family from Vietnam. We would not be supporting them with money but checking in with them to explore and help solve problems, stuff like that. We asked our members for clean, usable clothes and household items.

    Half the clothes had to be thrown out — just thrown out. They were too big, very worn, had shiny patches, worn patches. I could tell it was clothes from set of sisters of German background because the style of the coats and suits were from old white men, at least 6-ft tall and a few hundred pounds. The sisters probably had the stuff in the attic or cellar and decided to get rid of the stuff now. Some of the household items were also old and used, appliances that didn’t work well anymore.

    Please, Please if you donate goods to people, make sure the items are still good. Don’t waste the collectors’ time having to sort through it all and make them cover the cost of disposal. It really made me mad. We ended up taking money from the church’s treasury to buy suitable things.

  26. 26
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Hillary Rettig: It’s a fascinating movement!

  27. 27
    Kalimama says:

    @srv: Just sent $35, and wish it could be more. Thank you for your suggestion and thank you, Hillary Rettig, for putting up this thread

  28. 28
    Uncle Cosmo says:

    @Hillary Rettig: I saw the Stooges as a kid circa 1960, live on an open-air stage at the old Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Baltimore. The one thing I remember clear as day is Moe, his bowl cut now salt&peppered, saying after one shtick ended, Kids, I’d like to talk to your parents for a minute now–& continued (I paraphrase), Folks, we were just a bunch of washed-up vaudeville comedians until your children found us. And we can’t ever tell you how grateful we are to them for saving our careers. It was a sweet moment.

  29. 29
    satby says:

    @srv: I’m overdrawn and still owe on a kitty bleg but I will be donating in your honor Thursday srv, thanks! And thanks to the folks who met srv’s challenge as well as Hillary Rettig for front paging this.
    Restores my faith in humanity after a Bern flame thread.

  30. 30
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Uncle Cosmo: My ex had a great friend in Ted Raimi, whose great-uncle worked in Hollywood on Three Stooges movies and other shorts of the period. Hence the Raimi Brothers’ great fascination with the Three Stooges, particularly Shemp. I finally got to the point where I appreciated the artistry in even low buffoonery, and came to like the Three Stooges again after a long time of thinking them merely silly.

  31. 31
    sherparick says:

    The underlying problem driving this migration is an environmental/social/political/religious catastrophe that stretches from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, and then skips to Syria/Iraq and then skips again to Afghanistan and Pakistan and into Western China. Millions of people want to escape drought, famine, and war and willing to risk a 1/23 chance of dying at sea to get somewhere where life has future.

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