Jen Yamamoto, a dedicated AAAGA volunteer
Donating items, such as clothing or furniture, to the Afghan American Alliance of Georgia can be an important way of helping refugees get settled in Metro Atlanta.
But have you considered volunteering in person? What would that be like?
“To be able to truly, immediately assist a family – whether it’s just to help connect their TV or figure out what to do when their car breaks down – it is so impactful,” said Jennifer “Jen” Yamamoto, a volunteer for AAAGA.
Jen shared her thoughts on working directly with families. “It’s amazing to see how much this organization has changed people’s lives” by helping newly arrived refugees transform themselves into employed, flourishing neighbors.
A New England native, Jen moved to Metro Atlanta about 25 years ago. She is a speech therapist who heads up a pediatric therapy service in Decatur. With a husband, two children and a business, she had little free time.
But last fall, she layered on another commitment after hearing about a nascent organization being put together by Dr. Hogai Nassery. Jen’s daughter and Dr. Nassery’s son are friends. Through that connection, Jen learned of Afghan refugees’ needs.
“We had a couch we could donate,” she said. “So my husband took a couch to a refugee family,” and that simple act opened up a new friendship with an Afghan family.
“My husband and I are both good with logistics” thanks to their experiences as small business owners, she said. So they threw themselves into helping create the structures that would sustain AAAGA. For example, they helped establish “teams” that would focus on different needs, such as sorting and delivering donations, helping set up doctor appointments, writing up resumes, etc.
Although Jen has continued to help with such organizational efforts, her focus has shifted to directly helping refugees. “We’ve dug deep to help four families,” she said. The refugees’ needs were mundane – yet complicated, like getting a driver’s license, establishing a bank account, finding a mechanic to help with a vehicle.
Initially, the families needed “food, housing and clothing,” she said. Government programs and AAAGA helped fill in those gaps. “Now the needs are different, but perhaps bigger. They are fighting to get asylum. And every one of these families has a story about loved ones they have left behind.”
Now the families need help with immigration hurdles, medical care, job applications and emotional support. “As volunteers, our job is to connect them to people who can help them,” Jen said.
“These refugees come in with very high aspirations. They know this is a place where they can make their families successful,” she said. “But the barriers to entry are so hard. The families are so overwhelmed that if there weren’t organizations like AAAGA, they would fall flat.”
Jen said she gets great satisfaction from working directly with Afghan families. “I like the here and now,” she said. “I like to help a family right now; it’s how I get an immediate connection,” one that makes her feel useful and valued.
If you’d like to help too, please check out this link: https://www.afghanamericanallianceofga.org/take-action