Meet Lauren

Lauren’s a 27-year-old Midwesterner who’s dedicated her career to directly serving refugees and displaced people. Working with NGOs in the U.S. and Turkey, Lauren has experienced two very different systems first-hand.

“I turned refugee services into my career in 2012, when I began serving the Chicago refugee population as an Employment Specialist in the U.S resettlement system. After several years I moved to Turkey, where I now work at Small Projects Istanbul, a grassroots organization serving those displaced by the conflict in Syria and other parts of the MENA region.”

Lauren’s role at Small Projects Istanbul covers Communications and Fundraising Coordination.

“I use social media, the web, and public forums to address the role individuals can play in improving conditions in Turkey, and setting an example by sharing the work that SPI does to support children and families as they gain their footing in this new environment. I work with individuals and their communities to help them see the ways they can make a difference, by supporting our programs that assist integration and opportunities for success.”

Through her work in Chicago as a Job Developer, Lauren saw how supporting refugees to enter the workforce can have a positive impact for the individual, business, and the wider community.

“As a staff of 25, we would address the adjustment needs of over 400 newly arrived refugees with a range of languages and cultural backgrounds every year. We specialised in housing, teaching English as a Second Language, school support and employment services, and my role was to act as a mentor to refugees and a liaison to the business community. Over time my role evolved beyond new language skills, interviews and entry-level job offers for self-sufficiency, to include access to job training for refugees to re-enter their former careers.”

When considering the journey that has brought Lauren to where she is now, she draws on the personal connections that inspired her during her time as an after-school tutor in high school. She worked with young refugees from Burundi and the Congo; people coming from conflicts different to those SPI is addressing now, but with similar stories to tell.

“As I learned more about their experiences coming to the US, the growing pains for kids and teens, and the deeper barriers like language and entering the workforce that their parents faced, I felt called to become an actor in the process. I wanted to know its inner-workings and the ways that individuals, businesses, and communities could act as partners in their resettlement.”

“To be fair you could call me an idealist. To some extent, you have to be to stay afloat in a field with limited resources and a mandate to support hundreds of families as they rebuild their lives.”

Lauren can be reached at lauren@smallprojectsistanbul.org and continues to give support to mentees. Learn more about Small Projects Istanbul by visiting their website.