In this final post, I want to further discuss how Casa Azafrán, the Nashville International Center for Empowerment (NICE), and the Tennessee Office for Refugees (TOR) all uniquely serve immigrants and refugees—but also work together—in order to create a well-founded network of support.
Most of my time with these organizations was spent with Nashville’s refugees specifically, but Casa Azafrán does provide all immigrants with the critical assistance they may need upon arrival in the United States. However, the community center doesn’t have the capacity for refugee resettlement because it’s not partnered with TOR, which serves as the federal administrative body for all of Tennessee’s refugee resettlement. Assisting refugees in particular is thus TOR’s primary focus, and the same holds true for NICE, as it’s one of five resettlement agencies in the state and partnered with TOR.
Logistically, these organizations all turn to different places for support. Casa Azafrán comprises several non-profits and relies on public and private funding and donations for its programming. Since it’s not a resettlement agency like NICE, Casa Azafrán does not receive funding from TOR (and is thus financially independent from it). NICE, on the other hand, primarily relies on TOR for backing its core services and communicating its needs for more resources. However, NICE also seeks other sources of monetary support (like private donations) to cover additional expenses. Finally, if some need or concern cannot be resolved at the state level, TOR itself would then seek guidance from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.
While the “nuts and bolts” of each organization may vary, all of them are highly interconnected in their missions and complement each other’s differing capacities for supporting Nashville’s newcomers. While I was unable to dive deeper into the structure of Casa Azafrán & NICE as a new volunteer, my contact at TOR, Emily, was more than happy to provide TOR’s perspective on its relationship with these other agencies. She couldn’t speak much for Casa Azafrán since it’s not officially partnered with TOR, but when I asked for her thoughts on TOR’s more “distant” role versus the more “direct” one of NICE, she wanted to first look at not how their operations may differ but rather discuss how the different offices work together as a cohesive unit. She emphasized that there aren’t differing philosophies or methods of services between TOR and its partner agencies; in a nutshell, she wasn’t sure that there are necessarily pros or cons to having a centralized, “distant” office versus an agency offering direct services because both “models” are required by the United States’ overarching refugee resettlement program (and are key for meeting its goals).
As someone who had never previously met a refugee, getting to directly hear some of their stories in the past few months has been an incredible experience. I am grateful to have had this opportunity to learn so much from both them and these three organizations. Even in just a short time frame, I was able to have a real glimpse into the constant collaboration between the team members of these different agencies, and I loved seeing their network in action. I think the importance of all their work can be encapsulated by what Emily told me during our follow-up conversation comparing all of Nashville’s refugee- and immigrant-serving organizations:
The more we can represent these lived experiences, the more informed we can be of New Americans’ struggles & celebrations.
After spending the semester discussing how art can be this kind of informative representation, illustrating both the tough challenges and beautiful successes relevant to policymaking, I also want to make one last plug for encouraging and amplifying artistic expression of an immigrant’s journey, as it can convey everything I have touched on in a compelling, sensory way. With regard to the refugee experience in particular, I encourage you to check out Refugee Republic, an award-winning, interactive documentary that expands viewers’ understanding of a refugee’s day-to-day life. Someone told me to check it out toward the start of this blog series, and it is still one of the most resounding and immersive visual narratives that I have seen.
In our current political climate, where the United States has accepted much fewer refugees and vilified their presence, educating not only yourself but also your family and friends on the struggles that refugees (and immigrants as a whole) have faced is needed now more than ever.
Organizations like Casa Azafrán, NICE, and TOR need you on-board to welcome refugees and immigrants wholeheartedly. I can attest to the fact that all three of these organizations are actively looking for volunteers from all walks of life, as a diversity of experiences and many fresh pairs of eyes will provide much-needed insight into how to help Tennessee’s arrivals successfully integrate. Every team member and volunteer who I have met throughout my own “volunteer quest” seems to truly be fulfilled by being a part of newcomers’ fresh start: no longer displaced and now given a new beginning.
Moving onward, please consider your own community, how it has shaped you, and your role within it. Get involved, and keep your mind (and arms) wide open.
Thank you for tagging along this journey with me.
All names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.