YMCA International Services Aids Refugees and Immigrants | WESTCHASE DISTRICT

Westchase District is home to a “Y,” but not the Y you might be thinking of. Known for their community centers and fitness centers, the YMCA operates locations all over Houston. YMCA International Services is no different in serving communities throughout the greater Houston area, with their main office in Westchase District offering services to immigrants and refugees. YMCA International Services moved to its current location at 3110 Hayes Road one year ago, having previously operated on US-69 at Westpark for more than 20 years. “We’ve experienced exponential growth,” said Lindsey Torres, senior director of business operations for YMCA International Services. “As an official U.S. government resettlement agency, we typically worked with 350-400 families a year. But after the fall of Kabul, we served more than 1200 families in four months. We had to grow rapidly to meet our clients’ needs.” Moving to the Westchase District location also allowed YMCA International Services to centralize a majority of its operations under one roof, according to Lisa Guitguit, center executive director. “Collaboration is key and we wanted to bring the whole team together,” said Guitguit.

Helping refugees succeed

Staff members work to help the refugee families in their care become successful, whether that’s steering them toward higher education, a GED or a job. “We work with them to build their resumes. We offer interview training, help in writing and sending emails or riding public transportation,” said Torres. She added that many refugees come to the United States with advanced skills, like doctors and attorneys, but they can’t immediately reenter their chosen profession. “We can help them find meaningful, well-paying jobs here, such as phlebotomists or paralegals,” said Torres. YMCA assists other clients in finding manufacturing jobs or career training, like CDL operators or welders. Refugee families connect with social support programs that help facilitate a family’s access to housing and ensures the children are enrolled in school. “We have three apartment communities where we offer additional programming to our clients,” said Torres. “We offer sewing classes, adult education classes and after- school tutoring for the children. We go where our clients are.” In October 2023, the Y resettled 85 families and it is projecting that it will welcome more than 46 families (156 individuals) in November. They also provide legal services and assist clients in their asylum applications. Unaccompanied minors are placed in appropriate homes when they’re released from detention centers and victims of human trafficking also receive legal and social assistance. Eligible individuals can access services for up to five years when they become eligible to seek U.S. citizenship. YMCA International Services employs 349 full-time staff who speak 26 different languages. Even with a staff that large, YMCA International Services relies on the help of volunteers from the community to help serve their clients. Volunteers assist in the food pantry, organize the donations warehouse, serve as pro-bono attorneys, provide interpretation, mentor youth and so much more. YMCA International Services has organized an “Adopt-a-Family” program for the holidays. Visit their website for more information on volunteer opportunities.

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