[The Episcopal News] IRIS, the Diocese of Los Angeles’ refugee and immigration ministry, celebrated World Refugee Day June 20 with a “Welcome Home” open house at their headquarters at St. Francis’ Chapel in Atwater Village (Los Angeles).
IRIS has expanded its staff recently in anticipation of increased numbers of refugees, especially from Afghanistan, with others from Iraq, Ukraine and “a smattering of other countries,” according to Troy Elder, executive director, who on June 8 gave a report on IRIS’s work to Diocesan Council.
The staff, reduced to five people during the Trump administration, has increased to 21 full-time employees, along with interns from the Jubilee program and Occidental College, and volunteers. Most of IRIS’s funding comes from grants and U.S. government sources.
Longtime staff member Raffi Manser gave guests, including Bishop John Harvey Taylor, tours of the facility, which IRIS has occupied for some 15 years and is being remodeled gradually to accommodate the growing staff. Staff responsibilities range from helping new refugees and immigrants negotiate legal processes and meeting their immediate needs when they arrive to assisting with citizenship and naturalization applications, obtaining green cards that allow immigrants to work legally in the United States, filing family reunification petitions, visa processing and much more.
IRIS is one of only three Los Angeles-area nonprofit agencies handling such work, according to Elder, who explains that the other two are very large-scale operations. “People like IRIS because we’re small and they can get personalized help,” he said.
“We even answer our phones,” he quipped.
The open house featured craft projects led by Katharine Gould, whose art installation, “Crossings,” will be at St. Paul’s Commons until the end of August. Attendees also had the opportunity to assemble “welcome bags” with common household supplies for refugees, who often arrive in the U.S. with only the clothes they’re wearing.
Jose Luis Hernandez, a refugee and IRIS client, performed two songs for attendees. In between he described his flight seven years ago from persecution in his native Honduras, during which he suffered injuries that cost him his right arm and leg and several fingers on his left hand. Through an interpreter he expressed his gratitude to IRIS for helping him gain refugee status, to Episcopal priest Richard Estrada for taking him into his home, and the Episcopal Church for making him feel welcomed and protected.
Staff from Seeds of Hope, the diocese’s food justice ministry, also were present to work on re-landscaping the front of the church, where they will plant several fruit trees and establish a garden that will feature herbs from around the world.
IRIS staff members recently created a video in which they expressed their motto, “Welcome Home,” in some of the many languages they speak, including Farsi, Dari, Armenian, Arabic, Ukrainian, Pashto, Haitian Creole and more. Many of the staff were once refugees, and it is their ministry and mission, they say, to give back by welcoming the stranger where they themselves found welcome.
Learn more about IRIS and its ministries here.