2018 PFIG Recipient Colleen Averill

Career Administrator
2018 PFIG Recipient Colleen Averill

Journal Entry #1

Hello! My name is Colleen and I am a rising 4th year at UVA. This summer, I am interning for the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC) headquarters in Arlington, Virginia; one of the nine federally recognized U.S refugee resettlement agencies in the US. Founded in 1983, the Ethiopian Community Development Council was organized to respond initially to the needs of a growing African community in Washington D.C and its surrounding areas, but today extends its services to refugees from diverse cultural backgrounds. Since its founding, ECDC has expanded from the D.C area and has three branch offices and an affiliate network composed of twelve other non-profit agencies located in various regions of the US. I chose to intern at ECDC because of my career goals of working in the nonprofit/ government sector for refugees. Being the grandchild of an immigrant, I have grown up with understanding the difficulties of those who come to our nation seeking a new life- the challenges they face and the decisions they have to make. My first hand witness to this has led me to seek a career in working for those individuals who come to the United States in such vulnerable positions. I study Anthropology and Global Studies-Security and Justice at the University of Virginia to develop an interdisciplinary perspective on the complexities of immigration and refugee movements that involve the reasoning, motivations and justifications for these types of societal interactions.With this educational background, I wish to be an advocate or voice for those impacted by global violence.


Today was my first day at ECDC and it was a whirlwind. When I first got there, all the interns were given a tour of the office and introduced to all the employees! I shook many hands, but couldn’t remember all the names. After the tour, I met with my supervisor and discussed my roles as an intern. I am an Reception &Placement (R&P) Programming intern and work for the minor specialist. The R&P period for a resettlement agency is the first ninety days of a refugee’s entry into the US and consists of the agency providing a range of services that are agreed upon under the Cooperative Agreement held between the federal government and the nine resettlement agencies. These services include but are not limited to airport pickups, applying for Social Security Cards, arranging medical appointments, etc.. As a minor intern within the R&P period, I am assisting the minor specialist in monitoring services provided to refugee minors within ECDC’s network and making sure they are in accordance with the Cooperative Agreement. As it is my first day, I have had to study the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of handling refugee minor cases. What’s surprised me most so far is the amount of acronyms I need to know in this job industry! There are pages upon pages of acronyms I have to study before working with my supervisor. I am supposed to officially begin working on minor cases after my training in a week, so I am excited for what this internship will bring me.

Journal Entry #2

I have just completed my 5th week within this internship and I feel very satisfied with my decision to intern here. World Refugee Day has just passed and I helped ECDC put on a showcase for it in DC. The event was dedicated to exposing the resiliency and contributions refugees have made in the DC area and was composed of a photo gallery, entrepreneurial spotlight on refugees, and roundtables for former refugees to tell their story to the public. This event made me realize that although ECDC has its roots in refugee resettlement, it also has a wide impact in the advocacy and promotion of the refugee community; a service which is much needed in this current political climate. Yesterday I was able to attend an Arlington County Board meeting that was visited by a group of 4th graders from a local elementary school. The 4th graders addressed their desires for Arlington County to be more welcoming of refugees and presented a welcoming book they made for refugees that will be spread across ECDC’s network. Witnessing this advocacy for better refugee treatment by 4th graders made me more hopeful for the future of refugee resettlement, that there will someday be leaders again who are willing to take up this moral responsibility of the US. 


Besides my resettlement work, an additional big commitment I have had as an intern at ECDC is putting together a special project throughout the summer and presenting it as a training webinar to staff and affiliates at the end of our time here. In addition to working with the minor specialist then, I have done a lot of research on Muslim refugee youth. I’ve decided to discuss the growing Anti-Muslim sentiment occurring in the US, it’s effects on Muslim refugee youth, and strategies for resettlement agencies like ECDC to use in efforts to address these impacts for clients. Although the past executive order by Trump severely cut off refugee admissions from Muslim majority countries, I choose this topic because I believe there is a significant need for training resettlement staff on how to support this particular clientbase.


Every week, ECDC sends out a "Refugees Profile" email to the interns which is meant to be supplemental material reading to the other assignments. Within the emails are links to articles and videos that highlight refugees of different countries and explain the situations that have forcibly displaced them. Each week we learn about a new group of refugees from a different country. Reading these weekly emails has been one of the most beneficial activities for me because it's given me a clearer picture into the complexity of global insecurity. As a GSSJ major, I like to think I'm informed on global issues, especially ones involving refugees. However, these refugee profiles have led me to witness how widespread this issue is as I have read profiles about refugees from countries I never knew had such concerns. If US politicians were to read these emails, I believe there would be more effort into implementing more open refugee policies today.

While living in DC, I have had the chance to try many different types of food. So far I have tried Thai, Ethiopian, Turkish, and Lebanese food for the first time! I've fallen in love with Thai food specifically and have already ordered Thai takeout 4 times! Along with trying the food comes the unique restaurant experience. I was eating lunch with the other ECDC interns at an Ethiopian restaurant one day when a community gathering took place there. The restaurant was packed with Ethiopians all carrying the Ethiopian flag and wearing shirts supporting the prime minister. It was really neat to witness this community gathering and learn of their optimistic attitudes for Ethiopia's future. On this note, I am excited for what the second half of my internship will bring me!

Journal Entry #3

I have just finished my internship at ECDC and I'm sad to leave the team. During the last few weeks of my internship, I finished two large projects that were started earlier in the summer. The first was my special project on Muslim refugee youth and how resettlement agencies can serve them in a time where our nation is plagued with Anti-Muslim sentiment. It was an honor to present my findings to ECDC affiliate staff and advise them on techniques/ practices when serving clients impacted by religious discrimination. The other project actually blossomed from a small assignment I had earlier in the summer. I created multiple case note review tools for ECDC headquarters to use when monitoring affiliates across the nation. These tools will help ECDC headquarter staff analyze trends within the case notes of affiliates and be used to improve the affiliate's provision of services to their clients. This particular project greatly increased my technolgical skills as I became familiarized with automating data input into graphs and formulas. I even trained staff on how to use the tools I created; it was incredible to see my projects make a difference in ECDC work!

 The experience was very rewarding and increased my knowledge on the administrative side of nonprofits, refugee resettlement procedures from a bureaucratic and direct service standpoint, and working in a multi-cultural environment. Additionally, interning for ECDC confirmed my next stepping stone towards a career in humanitarian work. On my last day at ECDC, I got to talk to the Refugee Americorps officer about the program and work completed by Refugee Americorps members. She gave me great tips on searching for these positions and working them towards my career goals, and luckily my ECDC internship will give me a leg up when applying for the Americorps! Overall, I hope to obtain an Americorps position aimed at servicing refugees after college and use the non-competitive eligibility status after completion to apply for governmental jobs concerned with humanitarian affairs (hopefully refugee resettlement!). I can't thank the Parents' Fund  Grant enough for allowing me the opportunity to gain clear insight on my future career goals and the related steps I need to take in order to reach those goals. 

Reflecting back on this internship, I am deeply grateful to have the oportunity to complete an internship related to my academic focus on humanitarian concerns. Under our current government, humanitarian affairs have been pushed to the back of the political agenda, and this has further ostracized the vulnerable of our nation. It is also limiting career paths in this field and leading to job loss. As a hopeful worker in the humanitarian field, this job climate is frightening to me, but I realize that my education and internship experience combined will assure me success in finding a job in the field. I therefore thank the Parents' Fund grant again for allowing me this internship.