Tamara Weil

Denver, CO

“Our refugee clients come from many places, including Iraq, Somalia, Burma, Ethiopia, and Bhutan.”

I think of serving in AmeriCorps as my very own superpower. It evens comes with a uniform, the ubiquitous – A – that I always wear when serving, either as a small, elegant pin or a big, bold patch on a t-shirt or vest that announces: I am an AmeriCorps member and I am here to help.

I found my half-time Americorps position, which comes with a small stipend, through the organization Boomers Leading Change, a grassroots volunteer effort dedicated to improving the health – and access to healthcare – of individuals and families in metro Denver area by harnessing the experience and energy of adults age 50+ as volunteers.

tamara weilI serve 20 hours a week at Jewish Family Service of Colorado in the Refugee Mental Health Department and collaborate as part of a team of Refugee Mental Health therapists to provide services to our refugee clients. The goal is to fill in the gap between what the therapists provide and other services the clients need to successfully adjust to their new home and culture.

Our clients come from many places, including Iraq, Somalia, Burma, Ethiopia, and Bhutan. And while they come from very different cultures and backgrounds, they all have one thing in common: they are all refugees, forced to flee their homes due to war or persecution and they cannot return, ever. Many have suffered trauma and long stretches of time in refugee camps before coming to the United States. And most did not know anyone in Colorado when they arrived. As if this were not tough enough, when they are referred to Jewish Family Service’s Refugee Mental Health Department, they are also suffering from serious mental health issues, which make adjustment to their new home even harder.

With the help of skilled interpreters, I have helped clients navigate our health care and social service systems, taken them to medical and social service appointments and served as their advocate during appointments and follow-up, and I have found and linked clients with community resources. And while our clients needs are so very great, I have learned to celebrate the small victories: a client learning to ride the bus, getting into an ESL (English as a Second Language) class, or obtaining a car seat for a client family who couldn’t afford one.

And while I use my “superpower” to help my clients, my AmeriCorps service has given me back so much more than I have given; I work with a great team and the emotional satisfaction is huge. I know the goal is to fill unmet needs in the community. As a surprising side benefit, I have found that my AmeriCorps service has been incredibly rewarding and has made me a much happier and healthier person.

Recently, JFS received a grant from the Rose Women’s Organization to start an Iraqi Women?s Wellness Group, an eight-week program for 15 Iraqi women, which includes segments on cooking and nutrition, walking and other movement, and wellness and self-care coaching, with the goals of decreasing isolation, increasing social connection and the women’s knowledge of healthy cooking and diet, and, ultimately, increasing their overall health and wellbeing. Along with another JFS Refugee Mental Health staff member and our therapists, I helped develop the group and have been helping to facilitate it. Half way through, we are already seeing great results!

As I start my third term as an AmeriCorps member, I am so grateful to Boomers Leading Change, AmeriCorps and my host site, Jewish Family Service of Colorado, for giving me this opportunity to serve. Thank you!