Volunteer Profile - Annie Forshey

Volunteer Stories 
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Clients this year have over and over again reminded me that we are not confined by our pasts, but that the past is something we can use and grow from to create the kind of future we want for ourselves.

My name is Annie Forshey, and I am a senior at Eastern University studying Social Work and Spanish.  I came to NSC seven months ago to start my senior year internship knowing very little about the immigrant and refugee community in Philadelphia.  I was drawn to the anti-trafficking department because I had previous experience working with survivors of human trafficking and loved working with this incredibly resilient group.  I knew that most of the clients in our program spoke Spanish, and I was excited for the challenge of speaking Spanish.  Other than that, I had very little idea what NSC would hold for me.  I came in with high hopes and NSC somehow surpassed them all.

I came to NSC believing that immigrants deserve to be heard and that their unique perspective is incredibly valuable. Unfortunately, the United States has not always welcomed immigrants in this light.  The Statue of Liberty states: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and I believe that this requires everyone to offer this welcome.  Immigrants are often silenced in the face of systems, and myths can easily be created about this community, especially when someone does not know a refugee or immigrant personally.  I want our clients to feel heard, even when systems ignore their needs and their voice.  I believe that through relationships with immigrants and our communities and through speaking well and being gracious with others, we can start to change how the United States views immigrants.  Someday I hope that all of America will see immigrants for the strong, resilient, hardworking, courageous individuals that they are.

Another amazing thing I have found about NSC is that here difference and culture are celebrated. Every culture and every individual has something unique to offer, and this is utilized to better the agency and our community.  Every country, every culture is part of the puzzle that makes NSC great.  I love walking through the waiting room and hearing different languages spoken.  Because the clients and staff have varying language fluency, navigating language barriers is part of the day to day.  In my initial follow up meeting with my supervisors and field instructor, Juliane said something that has stuck with me.  She said, “by you trying to speak Spanish, you are an example of how to handle speaking your second language.  You can show what it means to be gracious with yourself and how to respond when you can’t understand”.  That really stuck with me and I have tried to live into that well this semester at internship.  Knowing someone’s native language is an incredible gift to give, but my language skills were still pretty rough, and I wondered if it was worth it to try.   So I tried, and I never expected how gracious clients would be. I quickly learned that in spite of our many imperfect attempts, the effort to break down a barrier whether linguistic or systemic is always worth it.

There are many moments that stick out to me as I reflect on these seven months at NSC.  One specifically was working with a family from Central America.  Their family was recently reunited and when I would ask how they were doing they would always smile and say “we are content”.  They have taught me a lot about joy.  Many people seek happiness, but few people have true joy.  Even when their heat isn’t working on a cold winter’s day, or it’s hard to find work, or it’s a long process to prove their documentation status to apply for an ID, they always smile and delight in the small things: in the laughter of their daughters, in moments together, in the dreams their son has.  It’s a reminder to delight in the small things, because those small things really are the big things. Clients this year have over and over again reminded me that we are not confined by our pasts, but that the past is something we can use and grow from to create the kind of future we want for ourselves. 

As an intern, I also had the opportunity to work with minor’s from Central American being served as part of  NSC’s  Unaccompanied Minor program.  This program supports kids and teenagers living with sponsors or relatives near Philadelphia.  A few years younger than me, their stories always move me.  After all they have been through, they still come back fighting.  One day after a client visit I came back to my desk and all I could think was - I’m amazed that people still love at all.  After living through trafficking, after betrayal, after financial struggles, after losing family members, after being separated from others, somehow, clients in our department and humanity alike keep on loving.  No one ever loves perfectly and our scars are forever a part of our stories, but they don’t need to limit our potential for the future.  One of our clients was just reunited with her daughter after four years, and another client is waiting for his family to join him; another client just received their T-visa and another is eligible for a green card.  In the midst of the pain, there is still hope here.  Somehow in the midst of the brokenness, people still rise up to love yet again.

There’s a lot of pain here, but there is also a lot of beauty. I guess that’s what makes NSC such an incredible place, that both are welcome.  As I walk through our waiting room I am reminded of how different we are.  We all have different cultures, home countries, past experiences, families, preferences, dreams, and yet at the root we are all very similar.  We are all seeking to love, seeking to work, seeking to live well by our families and our differing faiths.  At the end of the day, we are all in the midst of something broken, searching for something beautiful.  I’m thankful to have been at NSC for this year: a place where a lot of people can find something beautiful.