Meet Joann Holmen, Former Intern and Current Employee
After witnessing the day-to-day realities of refugees living in Jordan, Joann Holmen returned to Chicago determined to make a difference. And three years later, through World Relief, Holmen has passionately served refugees as a volunteer, intern, and now as an employee.
As a student at Purdue University Calumet, Joann Holmen had a variety of multi-cultural experiences, including studying abroad in France and tutoring international students. However, it was a trip to Jordan that brought her life mission into focus. In 2010, due to her Arabic language skills, Living Word Church invited Holmen to accompany them to Jordan where they planned to serve Iraqi citizens living in a refugee community.
“I was angry when I found out how long these people had to wait to get refugee status! Until then, they have no say over their own life,” said Holmen.
Holmen says that the trip opened her eyes to the refugee system, and as a result, she dedicated herself to learning more about refugees and the struggles that they face.
“When I saw what they were going through, I knew that I needed to help make a change,” said Holmen.
When she returned from Jordan, Holmen researched refugee organizations and began volunteering with World Relief Chicago [WRC]. She was assigned an Iraqi refugee family and immediately began teaching English to their adult daughter who was pre-literate.
“When we first met, the daughter was not able to read or write in her own language, so I would teach her words by doing an action,” said Holmen.
After two years of volunteering with this family, she wanted to increase her knowledge and be equipped to help refugees at a higher level. The volunteer coordinator at WRC recommended that she contact World Relief DuPage / Aurora [WRDA] about an internship.
Holmen committed to a three-month internship with the WRDA Resettlement Team. After her initial training, her main focus was conducting Comprehensive Family Assessments. Holmen conducted these assessments in the client’s home during the first few days after their arrival. The assessments gave her the opportunity to talk with the clients one-on-one and assess their unique needs and priorities.
“During the first weeks of my internship with WRDA, I remember being amazed by the clients’ positive attitudes and their stories of survival,” said Holmen.
When her internship was over, Holmen was able to return to Jordan and work with Iraqi refugees again—visiting families in their home, participating in a community Bible study and organizing a fitness class for women. Upon her return, she interned at a medical clinic in Wheeling until Andrew Timbie, WRDA Resettlement Manager, contacted her about a temporary position with the medical case team.
Holmen’s background and commitment to serve vulnerable people made her an ideal candidate for the position. In her new role, she helps clients get medical care and educates them on healthy living. In fact, she recently started a weekly fitness class for clients in West Chicago.
“World Relief has given me a realistic view of refugees and the services they require. Now, I can be a part of shaping the process and initiating change, “said, Holmen.
Meet Our Current Interns: Samantha, Nicole, Emilio, Michelle and Liz
Immigration Legal Services and Youth Services Intern
Western Illinois University (Senior/General Studies)
Samantha arrived in the United States, with her family, as an asylee from Rwanda. Through a connection of her father’s, the family came to Chicago in 2001 and resettled in Aurora. Now she considers the U.S. home and recently became a citizen. “I understand the application process for citizenship, so I thought I could use my experience to help WRDA clients.” Samantha understands what it is like to start-over and assimilate into a new culture, which is why she also enjoys serving with the youth services team. She believes that her background as an aslyee helps her to mentor the students from firsthand experience.
Samantha’s Internship Highlight: Learning about different people groups and their culture.
Volunteer Mobilization Intern
Aurora University (MSW Student)
With a background in corporate training and teaching, pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work is a career change for Nicole. Knowing very little about World Relief DuPage / Aurora she applied for an internship with WRDA through the internship coordinator at AU. “ From the time of my interview, I knew WRDA was here I belonged.” As a teacher of autistic children, Nicole has always gravitated towards serving society’s most vulnerable, but her internship with WRDA has opened her eyes to a new population—refugees. While Nicole’s professional goal is to be a school social worker, her secondary goal now is to make a difference in the lives of refugee children. “As a school social worker, I can support refugee kids in the school and work to educate the community on the immigrant population.”
Nicole’s Internship Highlight: The opportunity to pick-up a refugee family from the airport. I now volunteer as their friendship partner.
Volunteer Mobilization / Youth Services Intern
Aurora University (MSW Student)
Emilio applied for an internship with World Relief DuPage / Aurora [WRDA] after a professor encouraged him to look for an opportunity that would allow him to explore integrating his faith and work. According to Emilio, as a social worker, it will be important for him to work for an organization that is in line with his personal values and beliefs. And an internship with WRDA has confirmed this objective. “I believe in living by example, and I desire to show the love of Christ to people through the way I live. No matter where I am, my goal is always to welcome the stranger.”
Emilio’s Internship Highlight: Working on the Aurora Historical Society exhibit, which recognized the Bhutanese refugee community in Aurora.
Initial Resettlement Intern
Loyola University (B.A. 2012)
Michelle was first introduced to World Relief DuPage/ Aurora [WRDA] when she volunteered for a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals workshop. She enjoyed working with the clients and immediately looked into becoming an intern for her “gap year”— the year in between college graduation and graduate school. Now as an intern with initial resettlement services, Michelle is one of the first faces a client sees upon arrival. Along with her supervisor, she makes sure clients have completed all paperwork, helps them register for ESL class and takes them to the store for essential items. “I truly enjoy getting to know the clients! Language can be a barrier, so I have learned to use a lot of hand gestures.”
Michelle’s Internship Highlight: The relationships I have built with both the clients and the WRDA staff.
Immigration Legal Services Intern
DePaul University Law School (Third year)
After earning her undergraduate degree in International Studies from Kenyon College, Liz knew that graduate school was in her future. She decided to pursue law school because she felt that as a lawyer she could help people on a “larger scale.” Through the Immigration Legal Clinic at DePaul, Liz learned about an internship opportunity with World Relief DuPage /Aurora [WRDA] working exclusively with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA] clients. After graduation, Liz plans to pursue a career in public interest law.
Liz’s Internship Highlight: Learning about the practical side of immigration law.