Helen Hagens – Volunteer Spotlight
When a St. Vincent Catholic Charities representative visited the East Lansing Women’s Club, Helen Hagens was immediately excited and intrigued by the opportunity to help her local community. She was surprised to find out about the many services STVCC offers. “We’ve lived all of our lives in this area, and we had no idea that we settled that many refugees here in the Lansing area,” said Helen.
With Helen’s help, the East Lansing Women’s Club began collections for items such as clothing, household supplies and personal items for the refugee families at their monthly meetings. However, her desire to get involved stretched further than organizing collection drives.
In the past, she taught English as a second language overseas. As someone who has experienced the feeling of being an outsider in a foreign country, she felt her experiences would help her relate to refugee families. Helen mentors a single mother and four children originally from Eritrea in Africa. They arrived in Lansing from Egypt, which followed time spent in Sudan.
This opportunity has been an incredible bonding experience for Helen Hagens and the family she has taken in. “These are my other grandchildren now,” she said with a smile. Caring for the children while their mother is at work means doing fun activities such as going to the park and baking cakes. “We are having some fun too. We did trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. The three oldest children came with me to my daughter’s house for Thanksgiving and the entire family went to church on Christmas Eve and then came to my house for supper and presents.”
One of the most important parts of being a refugee family mentor is teaching families basic life skills. Helen believes that “[these are] things anybody could do and [can] help people with if [you’re] just slightly aware of the fact that they come from such a different background.”