by Jennifer Wing, Associate Executive Director – Programs
We’ve fielded lots of requests these past few months from nonprofits looking for people who are fluent in Russian and Ukrainian. These are organizations that are resettling Ukrainian refugees. Let me tell you, finding native speakers is hard. And finding people who speak these languages who want to volunteer is another level of difficulty!
Striking out after approaching some churches, social groups, clubs, and university Slavic language departments, I came across the Russian Language School in Bellevue that teaches the Russian language to children on weekends. Many of the parents of these children are native Russian and Ukrainian speakers and they want to keep the cultural connection to their homelands strong.
The woman who runs the school was kind enough to take my call. She ended up sharing my message with more than 350 people affiliated with the school. It essentially said: “Do you speak Russian or Ukrainian and are you interested in volunteering to help Ukrainian refugees rebuild their lives here in the Pacific Northwest?”
Boom! I found the source!
Companis now has six(!) volunteers placed in various ways to help resettle Unkrainians. These new Companis Workers are translating documents for U.S. citizenship classes, teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and helping social workers follow up with families who are in line for housing. One of these volunteers is 32-year-old Yulia Tolskaya who was born in Russia and moved to the United States at the age of nine. As a Companis Worker, she teaches two online classes for Lutheran Community Services Northwest that are specifically for senior Ukrainian refugees. The minimum age of her students is 60. One class is for English language learners and the other is a civics class to prepare them for their U.S. citizenship test.
“All of the students are really nice and they are all working so hard,” says Yulia. “It’s really difficult to learn a new language when you are older and they are all refugees from a war-torn country who have lost their homes.”
Yulia also says that her students are excited to become U.S. citizens and to vote. That’s made her appreciate her own U.S. citizenship and her ability to vote, too. Welcome to Yulia and all six new placements working directly with our newest neighbors!
If you’d like to share your skills and volunteer with Companis, contact us! We have a volunteer form on our website or you can call our office to start exploring your options.