Adnan Aswad, 23, volunteers at the Northside CYO’s Resettlement Center, in Syracuse.
Fluent in Arabic and French, he was born in Iran and grew up in Jordan. For nearly five years, he has lived in Syracuse. With his most-needed talent, fluency in Arabic, he is invaluable to the center.
“I help everybody with anything they need: translating, English, learning the alphabet. I teach them everything,” he said.
Now there is a new program Aswad is helping with: Office for New Americans, which receives its money from the state. It offers two programs: a drop-in center Mondays through Fridays to help immigrants learn to speak and write English, and citizenship classes Tuesdays through Saturdays. Both are located at the CYO, 527 N. Salina St.
One of 27 in the state, the Office for New Americans in Syracuse is a consortium of Literacy Volunteers, the Spanish Action League and InterFaith Works.
All opportunities are free, but they require documents: registration and an intake packet that includes information about income.
“There is no income requirement, but we need to keep track of the income levels we serve,” said Kate Holmes, volunteer coordinator for Catholic Charities of Onondaga County, Northside CYO.
As for Aswad, “he is an excellent helper,” said Holmes, “whether it is a household issue, moving boxes, translating—he does it eagerly.”
Cheryl and Tim Ferris, of Marcellus, also volunteer. Recently, they were busy at the drop-in center helping two young men from Somalia begin to learn the basics of English. The men arrived in Syracuse just a week ago.
The CYO is a busy place. There is an after-school program for grades 1 though 8, which is part recreational, part educational. Most are refugees from a wide variety of schools. Rose Al Saidi, a senior at Corcoran High School who will enter Syracuse University in the fall, is one of the volunteers. She was recently working with Mumina Adan, 10, and her brother, Osman, 8, students at Frazer K-8 School.
“We’re thankful she’s here,” Holmes said. “She was a participant, now a volunteer who helps with homework.”
Another regular at the after-school program is Lydia Andrews, a graduate of the University of California Santa Cruz, who is in her second year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. She concentrates on the 10-to-12 age group and the girls’ teen program. Andrews has helped youngsters from Burma, Bhutan, Central Africa, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Eritrea and Ethiopia.
“I’m lucky,” she said. “This is a blessing.
I couldn’t think of a better thing to do.”
There is always a need for volunteers to help refugees. New York ranks second in the nation in immigrant population. There are 1.2 million living outside the New York City area. To learn more, contact Holmes at 474-7428, Ext. 45, or by e-mail: email@example.com.