Sophia Lamas, ’24
Supporting Refugee Families
During many of the first classes or club meetings of the year, you’ll often hear the question, “What’s a fun fact about you?”
Like most people, I’ve always hated scrambling for an answer, but today I’m ready to tell you mine. A little over 300 years ago, my dad’s ancestors herded their sheep from present-day Mexico to what would become California and stayed. Only 50 years ago, my mum’s parents traveled across the Atlantic from Norway and England to make a new life in Washington.
I tell you this because my family’s history of immigration is the reason I began working with refugees, and working with refugees is the reason I found myself.
The summer after my freshman year at Stanford, I interned with the Refugee and Asylee Program of Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains (LFS) as part of Cardinal Quarter’s Spirituality and Social Change Fellowship. LFS is the Denver-based branch of a national nonprofit organization that provides refugees and asylees with the services needed to resettle in America. Their programs include immigration legal services, rental assistance, job assistance, tutoring, English as a Second Language classes, and cultural orientation.
That summer was not the first time I worked with LFS. My mum has volunteered at LFS ever since she and my dad moved to Colorado in the ’90s and continued to while pregnant with me. She taught me that, as the descendants of immigrants, it is our moral duty to give back to these communities. I worked alongside her teaching kids English from the time I was in middle school. I helped, but more with a savior-complex mentality than genuine humility. I helped people because I felt like that made me a good person.
As time went on, my relationship with the refugees in the program changed. I developed genuine friendships. I found myself learning an immense amount about other cultures. I joked with other kids about how tiresome but loving our siblings could be. I became more aware of my relationship with God as I learned about other Abrahamic faiths.
By the time I applied for Stanford, because of my work at LFS, I was inspired to switch my career interests from aerospace engineering to diplomacy. I got a chance to intern under a wonderful career counselor named Morgan O’Neil at LFS the summer before my freshman year. Together, we talked with the people in the program to discover their career aspirations and helped chart career paths that would allow them to become financially independent. We also worked to maintain their dignity, as they often found English to be a barrier to maintaining their old professions, which meant that after working as doctors, lawyers, and other professionals, they were often forced to take low-wage jobs while getting certified in the United States.
I continued working at LFS the following summer interning under a case manager named Alula Arega. We led a team that helped around 50 refugee families with every aspect of resettlement. I provided Spanish translation and focused on two main projects. The first project was to help my supervisor do intakes—initial meetings when a new refugee family comes to the United States where we assess their needs and map out their goals. I took meeting notes, sent the relevant tasks to those who could help with that need, and recorded the meetings in the government database to ensure compliance.
The second project involved calling clients to see how they were doing and assessing whether we were able to close their cases. These are families with whom we had worked for several years and were likely ready to make their way without our support. As we have a cap on the number of families we can help, closing cases is an important part of the process because it allows us to take in new refugees who need services.
Beyond my work at LFS, I regularly met with fellow Stanford students in my Cardinal Quarter cohort. With this thoughtful group, led by Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann, I reflected on my time with the refugees in the LFS program. I learned that I am not the only person plagued by viewing service egotistically, but that we can overcome this. I’m proud to be the descendant of immigrants, and I hope to continue to be humbled by the experiences of other immigrants for many years to come.