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Refugees find a helping hand at the Turlock IRC
Refugee Marion Youhanaei works at his uncle’s Shell gas station on Monte Vista Avenue. His uncle offered him a place to work and a place to live when he first arrived in the United States two years ago. - photo by MAEGAN MARTENS / The Journal
Finding a job, any job, to put food on the table was almost impossible for Marion Youhanaei, who lived in Iran most of his life. He couldn’t get a job anywhere in his native Iran, because he was a Christian.
“They want to decide your religion for you there,” he said. “It is my life and my religion.”  
He tried looking for a job at banks and with the government, but he had no luck because he practiced a religion they didn’t approve of, Youhanaei said.
He finally decided it was too hard to live in Iran and that is when he stumbled upon the International Rescue Committee, he said. Youhanaei sent in his paperwork and soon after packed his stuff and moved to Turlock to live with his uncle. He has lived in Turlock for the past two years.
“IRC has changed my life big time,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here without their help. Now I have freedom and my family.
“I feel free.”
The IRC in Turlock helps individuals and families from around the world who have escaped war or persecution. Once a refugee is in America, IRC comes to the rescue helping them adjust to life in the United States. They help them find a job and a place to live.
“How terrible would it be to not have anything,” said Jennifer Smith, IRC volunteer coordinator. “They leave their country to come to America and they have nothing.”
Through donations and many volunteer programs, IRC is able to help out refugee families that settle in Turlock, Smith said. With a big population of Assyrians in Turlock, IRC mainly works with Assyrian refugees to help them become self-sufficient in America with the community’s help.
IRC is always looking for new volunteers to work as a family mentor, office/casework assistant, office volunteer, volunteer driver or a job search volunteer. Anyone can also donate items ranging from furniture, kitchen items, appliances, or electronics or just donate their time.
Through the family mentor program, volunteers can “take the family under their wing to understand life here,” Smith said. Family mentors help show refugees the culture here in Turlock along with American customs and typical day-to-day things they need to know to survive.
Some things a family mentor can do is take the refugee grocery shopping, Smith said, or take them to the library or even a day at the zoo. Another thing family mentors can do is help teach the refugees English.  
“It is about helping them in little ways,” Smith said.
Volunteers in the family mentoring program can work a flexible schedule making this program their own with a required minimum of four hours a week for about six months.
Other things to help make a difference in the life of a refugee, would be to volunteer to drive them places like to Modesto to get them to the social security office, she said. Most refugees don’t have cars so it is difficult for them to get around the area.
IRC’s main focus is to help refugees feel at home in America, she said. IRC helps refugees find a job through training and resume writing, along with finding them a place to live while providing some furniture to get them started.
Through the many IRCs located throughout the world, they have helped resettle over 9,000 newly arrived refugees in the United States in 2008 and provided services to 28,000 refugees, asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking, according to the 2008 IRC Annual Report. The Turlock IRC has helped resettle 1,000 refugees from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Russia.
Youhanaei is one of those refugees who thanks IRC for all they have done, he said. Now that he has the freedom of religion in America, Youhanaei is planning on getting his degree and eventually hopes to start his own business.
“By volunteering, people will realize there are people in need in our town,” Smith said. “Volunteers will see a different perspective in life.”
If interested in volunteering for the Turlock International Rescue Committee, contact Jennifer Smith at 667-2378.
To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.