Mark Fenton is LIRS’ Story Production Associate. To contact him with a story, email here.
As a young photographer volunteering for LIRS, I got the privilege of visiting Lutheran Family Services in the Carolinas, in Raleigh, NC. I traveled around Raleigh with a number of the staff in the office, meeting refugees, preparing for a newly arriving family, and even being among the first people to welcome that family to the United States. It was an eye-opening experience, but also a very humbling one.
Before beginning work for LIRS, while at university I often worked from the time my feet hit the floor to the minute I collapsed in my bed at the end of the day, whether it was class, homework, or my job at the campus cafe. I didn’t necessarily enjoy those days. In Raleigh, I met many people who embraced those long work days with much more joy and energy than I ever mustered at university.
Not only did I discover that the staff at LIRS affiliates often work long hours, they do so with a remarkable amount of joy and excitement. Despite staying up until 1am helping a newly arrived family settle in after a 15 hour flight to the United States, or working until 3am to finish a report, people at LIRS affiliate offices choose their jobs because they love what they do. They care deeply about their clients. And often their clients work just as hard.
For many, it is about making a new life, making a new dream come true in the United States, a privilege that I have so often taken for granted. I met several refugees who had been working in the same dining hall, at the same college, doing the same cleaning and food preparation for years. In the eyes of many in our society, those jobs are dead-end, non-career positions. But these men and women I met treasured their jobs, worked very hard, and were extremely grateful for all the work that the staff at LFS Raleigh had done to get them their job.
As I asked if I could photograph one particular refugee, she quietly agreed, and her manager quickly stepped in and praised her hard work. Even though she was uncomfortable with the cash register, she had been working there for hours, because she was needed there. She smiled at me, shyly, and her manager continued to praise her hard work. I know my smile would not have come so easily, were I in her shoes.
This season reminds me to be thankful for the work that I have, even though I am simply a volunteer at LIRS. It reminds me to treasure the opportunities that I have been given, and to remember how much more many refugees have to endure to seek the same security and dignity that I also desire. Share what you are thankful for and leave a comment, and let us all remember all that we have been given, however large or small the blessing.