Discovering Compassion Across the Country

Since I started with NJFON at the end of January, I’ve spent a significant part of my time learning. This has involved talking with former staff, reading through scores of files on our server ranging from board manuals to legal resource materials, and researching, say, good deals on used furniture.

But the most rewarding learning I’ve done, and certainly the most interesting, has been through visiting our JFON sites around the country. Before I even officially started, I had a chance to take part in a volunteer training at a brand new JFON clinic in an immigrant-rich neighborhood of Chicago. The commitment of the volunteers and the scope of the need within that community amazed me. 

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to meet board members, volunteers, and staff in New York, Maryland, West Michigan, Southeast Michigan, Tennessee, Florida, Nebraska, and Iowa. I’ve sat down with clients at clinics who were grateful to be in a place that could help them identify and resolve their immigration issues.

I’ve discussed with our staff attorneys the benefits as well as the challenges of utilizing a volunteer-based model for our work. I’ve dialogued with board members about funding streams, term limits, and Annual Conference relationships.

I have been fascinated that, although each site is unique with its own challenges, resources, personalities, history, and partners, there is also a significant commonality between sites.

Everyone is genuinely compassionate, with a deep sense of purpose to serve and connect with immigrants in their community. Nearly everyone feels a spiritual motivation to their work, often rooted in their experiences through the United Methodist Church.

Everywhere I go, people are passionate about improving things—this includes not just calling for comprehensive immigration reform, but improving the personal relationships we each have with folks who may come from a different country than we do. And everyone seeks to live by example.

I am energized by this learning experience and am eager to visit all 15 sites in the months ahead.  As I do so, I am excited to explore how we can learn from each other, both through our differences, and also through our shared sense of purpose.