REFUGEE AIDE

MSHS grad works to resettle people displaced from homelands

By 8-18 Media
Maggie Guter, a 2015 graduate of Marquette Senior Highschool and former 8-18 Media member sat down with 8-18 Media youth reporters to talk about her college years at Georgetown University and her newly acquired job at HIAS. She spoke about what HIAS is all about. For those of you who are unaware of HIAS’s mission, it is a refugee resettlement agency. HIAS, which previously stood for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, but is now just called HIAS.  HIAS is a refugee resettlement agency, that also does a lot of work in the United States and internationally with refugees and displaced people.

8-18 Media: You attended Georgetown University and graduated in 2019. What did you major in?
I majored in international political economy, which is a specific version of international relations. Georgetown has a whole school of foreign service that has different varieties of international relations.

8-18 Media: You were also a member of 8-18 Media; how many years were you in the program and what skills did you learn from 8-18 Media that you carried forward into college and your career?
I think I figured out that I joined when I was nine and was in 8-18 until I graduated so that was about 9 years.  I learned all kinds of skills in 8-18 Media: I feel like I was more prepared than most people in high school and even some people in college to write and to write clearly and briefly and precisely about different topics. Definitely observational skills of doing research and finding out background information for a story and those skills all helped me out a lot writing papers or different things like that. I think that interviewing helped a lot as well to be able to talk to people.  I got used to being on the asking questions side of the interview, but doing job interviews and even college entrance interviews sometimes they want to talk with you, so having that experience of doing interviews before was definitely helpful. Even for networking, being able to walk up to people and say “HI can we interview you?” It’s not that different from walking up to someone and saying “Hi, what’s your name and what field are you in?”

8-18 Media: Can you tell us about your work at HIAS and why it was the correct career choice for you?
I think the history of the organization is really interesting.  It has been helping refugees since around 1890 and just helping people who come to a new place with maybe no idea what’s going on, they may not even speak English, and helping them get on their feet and get settled and making them feel safe and welcome here.  I think that’s really cool.  I thought it was the right career choice for me because I’m interested in helping refugees and immigrants.  My dad’s parents are immigrants from the Netherlands that came here after World War II so I have a little bit of that family history knowing what it’s like for someone in my family to be an immigrant and not grow up here. I think it’s really important to help people that didn’t grow up here and might be fleeing war or conflict or just a bad situation and want to come here for a better life. I thought this was a good way to help people and use my degree in what I know about international relations.

8-18 Media: What is your position and how long have you been there?
I’m working as a program associate in refugee resettlement and I’ve been there almost five months now.  I started at the beginning of July and I work with all of the different programs that we run that helps refugees.

8-18 Media: Can you describe a typical day of work?
My position does a lot of different things so there is not necessarily a typical day of work.  I work on the initial resettlement program, the employment program and the extended support program that we have so all of them are helping refugees in different ways.  I do different things for each program as well, but I do some things such as approving reports that affiliate offices submit to us.  I work at the headquarters level so we have 17 affiliate offices across the country that work with refugees directly.   I do a lot of support things for them, whether it’s training calls, answering emails and phone calls if they have questions about things, providing different resources and materials, writing a newsletter.  So, any mixture of those things with some team meetings with people from my department would be a fairly typical day.

8-18 Media: What is the most challenging part of the job?
I think the most challenging part of the job right now is that the current administration does not want to accept many refugees so that hurts all of the resettlement agencies because our affiliate offices get money for helping refugees from the government, so if they are not getting as much money, they can’t have as many people on staff.  It’s very difficult politically to try and convince people that we are doing important work and that refugees are good people and that it is a good thing to resettle them, even economically speaking.  It’s very beneficial to a community to resettle refugees in all ways.

8-18 Me: What is your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part is hearing back when good things happen or when things go well.  I’ve been doing training lately for our affiliate offices on reporting in the software and how you can get different data about your clients and they have been really appreciating those and that’s nice to hear.  Sometimes we hear client stories about how our affiliate offices are able to really help clients that need a lot of help.  There was one client at one of our offices that was deaf and also did not speak or understand English and our office was able to get him into American Sign Language classes and English as a second language classes and get him to a point where he is working two internships and hopefully is going to have full-time work soon.  Just hearing those kinds of client stories where our work is really making a difference in people’s lives.

8-18 Media: Does the current White House administration make your job scary or uncomfortable?
Yeah.  There are definitely some scary and uncomfortable parts of the job.  I think I don’t see them straight on, in my everyday work, because I’m working with the other resettlement agencies or within our agency, so I see a lot of people who are very welcoming to refugees, but even if I’m taking a taxi or something and the driver asks me, “Oh what do you do?” I’m never sure if should say refugee resettlement because some people do not like that we are accepting refugees and it’s hard to face that and understand that perspective to me.

8-18 Media: Do you believe in the work that you are doing?
Definitely believe in the work that I am doing.  I think it’s incredibly important to help people and make them feel safe and welcome here.  Refugees are often fleeing violence or just scary situations that I can’t even imagine and I think it is so valuable to make them feel safe and welcome in this new country.

8-18 Media: Do you have advice for high school students who are interested in a similar career path?
Sure.  If high school students are interested in a similar career path I would definitely advise them to look into colleges that have a strong international program or have a lot of people that end up working at non-profits.  Once you are in college or if you want to take a break before college I would definitely advise looking into internships with refugee organizations, immigrant organizations, and other non-profits, because that can help you get a good idea if this is something you to keep doing and give you some great job experience if it is. Yes, I interned with the Ethiopian Development Council, which is one of the other nine national resettlement agencies and then when I studied abroad in Amman, Jordan I interned with Jesuit refugees service in Amman.  Study abroad is a good thing to consider in college because it can give you a lot of experience working with people from all over.  I was in Jordan for four months, but I also studied abroad in Costa Rica as well for five months.  I recommend that everyone do their best to make their career goals happen.

If you would like to help HIAS with their mission Guter recommends you visit HIAS.org or RCUSA.org.  Both websites have volunteer opportunities, ideas for community engagement and information on how you can donate both money and goods.
(Written by Anna Martinson 15, and Ella Falk, 10.)

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