Rebuilding lives: Helping flood victims and refugees

Hannah Wright '15 says the combination of her psychology degree and four years of community service experiences through Nazareth have shaped the way she serves the community today.

In college, she led student disaster-relief service trips: to Detroit after severe flooding and twice to the downstate area after Hurricane Sandy. She coordinated students on an alternative spring break trip to West Virginia that focused on sustainable farming. She was a site coordinator for Nazareth students helping at Sanctuary House shelter in Rochester, part of Nazareth's Partners for Serving outreach effort. "As long as I can remember, service has been kind of natural," says Wright. "Caring has been natural" — especially when people so clearly need the help.

On the Detroit trip in 2014, she and other volunteers wore protective suits and respirators while using strong chemicals to kill mold in a family's basement. But then the mom and her young daughter came downstairs in bare feet, and Wright realized impoverished communities don't always have a lot of options.

After graduating, she became a full-time AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) worker assigned for one year to the all-volunteer Refugees Helping Refugees (formerly the Somali Community of Western New York) in Rochester, which helps Nepalis, Burmese, Sudanese, Iraqis, and people from central Africa. She helps refugees who are learning English to apply for jobs, meet requirements, and solve problems; works with youth in after-school and summer programs; and aims to help the organization improve efficiency and continuity. She is paid a small stipend.

Wright continues to appreciate the guidance and expertise of the professional staff in Nazareth's Center for Civic Engagement: "I still bother Julie [Lloyd], Nuala [Boyle], and Adam [Lewandowski] about how to work with people or deal with certain situations." Wright was instrumental in creating a partnership between Nazareth and Refugees Helping Refugees; three Nazareth students now go weekly to help the adult refugees learn English. 

Why do service work? Wright suggests the more logical question would be the opposite: "Why don't you serve?" 

"I enjoy service," she explains. "I enjoy seeing people happy and safe." The refugees appreciate the help. One time a Nepali man made fried dough rings for her. "Even if they don't have too much, people are so kind," says Wright. "You just need to give them that opportunity."

Wright delights in seeing a refugee girl who's only 2 but already speaks in both Nepali and English and is learning the names of colors and numbers. "I like seeing people succeed in life," says Wright. "I like to root for people."

Update:  In September 2016, she became a southwest region team leader for National Civilian Community Corps in Denver —her top choice — providing disaster relief, building trails, fighting fires, and other physically demanding work.

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Year of Service

    Hannah Wright explains her role at Refugees Helping Refugees

    Years of Service

    At least 15 other Class of 2015 alums have undertaken a year of service, including at Literacy AmeriCorps in Palm Beach County, Florida; Maggie's Place for expectant mothers in Phoenix, Arizona; Franciscan Volunteer Ministry in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Rochester Youth Year at East High School in Rochester, New York.

    Hannah Wright

    Hannah Wright '15

    As a student, Hannah Wright's work in Nazareth's Partners for Serving (PFS) program — providing mentoring, life skills development, and support at community service agencies — "forever altered the trajectory of my life," she says.

    "Not only did it teach me the importance of reciprocity, cultural sensitivity, and being an advocate, but PFS also strengthened my professional skill set and exposed me to cultures different than my own."

    "I am deeply grateful for my liberal arts education from Nazareth College. Liberal arts students are confident in what they know, humble enough to continue to learn, and driven enough to make a difference in their community and their field."