AmeriCorps Q&A: Stephen Decker, Refugee Cultural Orientation Specialist

Working with Hands On Nashville and Volunteer Tennessee, Catholic Charities of Tennessee welcomed two AmeriCorps members for the 2016-2017 term. As his term came to a close, we asked Steven Decker, refugee cultural orientation specialist, to share thoughts about what he’ll take away from a year of service.

Is there a community project or moment in the past year that particularly resonated with you? Why?

I always was trying to improve my cultural orientation class by working with community organizations and PSOs that could help me develop new materials for the class. My outreach to the Metro Nashville Police Department resulted in much more than I expected; not only did we get some great information and materials to pass on to clients, but with MNPD’s help, I was able to organize a field trip for clients. They met police officers in Nashville and learned more about the role of the police in American society. This was the kind of community building I came to AmeriCorps in order to do, and I was glad to see my outreach efforts bear fruit.

What has been the most challenging part of your term so far?

The political dimensions surrounding refugee resettlement in the U.S. right now make working in an agency like Catholic Charities awfully interesting, to say the least. With funding cuts and other related changes, we are down to a skeleton crew compared to the staff we had, but are still expected to deliver the same level of service to our clients within the same kind of timelines as before. Lucky for us, we have a great staff that has banded together to weather the storm. It’s a great team that continues – and will continue in the future, I’m sure – to perform ordinary, everyday miracles!

What about the most rewarding? 

There are two answers I could provide for this question. The first thing I’d mention is the chance to work with some remarkable people who have overcome terrible hardships, and yet could teach many of us a thing or two about compassion and respecting your fellow man. The second is helping others in the Nashville community and surrounding area better understanding the facts surrounding the refugee experience before and after resettlement. I have found the best way to fight prejudice borne of ignorance is to provide people with the means to break their own ignorance.

What do you like most about working with Catholic Charities?

This is one of the best staffs I have ever been a part of; it’s been a true privilege to work with and be counted among this group, and I have been blessed with plenty of “take-aways” or lessons I can apply to my future work from this experience.

What’s something you didn’t expect about living in Nashville?

T-R-A-F-F-I-C. You can say want you want about Nashville residents, but they sure do know how to clog up a road!

Learn more about Catholic Charities of Tennessee.

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