“To watch a family … transform their lives and start here, it’s just a wonderful thing.”
My name is Steve Bergbauer, I’m the Logistics Coordinator at the IRC in Baltimore. My primary responsibilities are basically around providing housing for refugee families, so whenever we have a newly arriving refugee family, it’s my job to reach out to our housing partners to secure safe and affordable housing.
Our partnerships are really important to the work that we do. We really rely on strong and healthy partnerships with housing communities and especially with the communities themselves. Bringing in a new family to a place like Baltimore, can be a challenge so it’s really important to have those community groups there to help with that support, especially in the early stages of the resettlement process. We are bringing in 5 to 10 families every week that need housing, that need that support and having somebody there we can talk to regularly about any issues that come up and somebody that’s familiar with the work that we do, and the clients that we have is invaluable.
So we have a lot of local partners. One of the primary ones that we are working with is a former refugee himself. He actually owns a mattress store, furniture store, across the street. He came through our office a number of years ago. Since then, he’s opened up his own store and he reached out to us, providing beds, furniture, and so we work with him with almost every new family that comes through. I think he’s a great example of someone who came here with nothing, with no real connections, no relatives in the area, and really established himself.
We actually have been approached by the mayor and her administration with her goal of bringing 10,000 new families into the city. When a family overseas is, you know, fleeing for whatever reason it might be, if they do find themselves in like a camp and they’re being processed, they can apply for refugee status and that’ll grant them the ability to be resettled in the United States or somewhere else. The IRC is one of many organizations that administers aid abroad in resettlement camps as wells as on site disaster relief and so when the state department will elect to focus on any given number of areas, they’ll then turn to agencies like ours to handle the resettlement process. So, you know, they’ll have a target for a given year of how many people they want to bring in and it’s really based on need and the capacity of an office to handle that.
Recently, we’ve been getting an influx of refugees and SIVs, which are clients with a special immigrant visa from Afghanistan and a lot of them, were working with the U.S. government, U.S. military, while we were there, as interpreters and translators and were targeted because of their work with us. One of those families we’ve resettled in Catonsville and has since just really, you know, been such a huge asset to our office, volunteering to interpret and translate for us, and you know, and he’s just, you know, really come such a long way.
Our families are coming over with no background checks, no employment as soon as they arrive, their documents are unfamiliar. So when you’re first reaching out to a potential housing partner, you have to basically, you know, ask that they take your word on faith and say, you know, we’re going to provide services for 8 months, we are going to support them, you know, to find employment, to help them apply for citizenship, to get their kids enrolled in schools, helping them with their medical appointments, and everything across the board and just saying that you know, we will guarantee that support for that 8 months.
I’m really invested in the work that we do. I grew up just outside the city in Catonsville and so, you know, getting to come back here, and you know, bring all of these new communities into the city and bring that diversity and all the different cultural aspects that are, you know, part of that; it’s just a really wonderful thing to see and to watch a family from their first steps off the plane to you know, transform their lives and start here, it’s just a wonderful thing to be a part of and I feel so fortunate to be involved with this organization and with the wonderful people in this office, it’s just a truly, you know, a really amazing experience.