When talking to Lauren Armbrester, our CLINIC Fellow with Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh, it’s obvious she is passionate about working with immigrants in her community. As a newly accredited BIA representative, she doesn’t view this as just a job, but as a way to live her spirituality.
“I grew up in Iowa, and did not attend the most diverse schools. [However], I always wanted to work for immigrants. I can’t explain it, except by saying that it is something the Lord put in my heart. It is a God thing. Growing up and reading bible verses, I was always struck by the message of welcoming the stranger,” she explained.
The Quad Cities’ native remembers first being exposed to refugee immigrants in high school. An off-handed conversation with a family friend about working with World Relief introduced Armbrester to the possibility of working with people from all around the world. Later, in college, her interest was sparked even more while studying abroad in Mexico.
“Locals in Mexico played an important role in welcoming me to their country,” she said. “I want to return the favor for those that come here.”
Additionally, it was while interning with Lutheran Family Services in Tampa, FL, a BIA recognized legal services provider, that Armbrester realized her passion for helping immigrants.
“I recall working with an elderly Bhutanese woman with severe mental health issues and I was at a loss for how to help her. It was through this experience that I confirmed that becoming a mental health counselor was not the right path for me. However, the experience exposed me to immigration legal services, which provided me with a new direction for my career,” she said.
Since then, Armbrester found her role with Catholic Charities to be both rewarding and informative. For the first six months, she learned invaluable lessons while working closely with BIA-accredited representatives in different Catholic Charities locations. One of the most important being the need to make sure her assessments are “thorough” in the beginning to ensure clients receive all the help they qualify for, and to “prevent obstacles or unexpected issues” later in the process.
Now, as an accredited representative herself, she is chartering new territory as the first full-time legal services provider in the Durham office.
“It is exciting to offer services in a new location, but I am most grateful for my colleagues. So often I lean on them for help, and I am so happy to learn from them.”
Now as she settles into her new role, where she too may become a resource for new service providers, she emphasizes the importance of volunteering before or while becoming accredited.
“I see how much our volunteers are exposed to. It is a great way to gain experience, plus it is a jumpstart towards accreditation for everybody who might find their passion working with immigrants too.”
The CLINIC Fellows program aims to increase the reach of immigration legal services and public education in underserved areas by funding additional full-time legal representatives that work with select CLINIC affiliates. Currently it targets eight states in the Southeast, in response to the heightened need for services in that region. For more information, visit https://cliniclegal.org/clinicfellows.