Through the Eyes of an Intern

Who am I?

Hi! I’m Sarah (#3), I’m a college student, and I’m interning at IRWP this semester!


As part of my International Studies major, I am expected to do an internship with an organization that has an international component and was recommended a list of possible internship locations that included IRWP. After reading about IRWP’s mission and goals, I knew I wanted to get involved because I am excited about the idea of interacting with people from different cultures and countries, finding opportunities to practice my Spanish, and empower women, immigrants, and refugees to feel more comfortable and independent in the US. So far, IRWP has been a perfect fit!

What do I do?

As an intern with IRWP, I do a huge variety of tasks. First, because the primary goal of the program is to offer lessons to immigrants and refugees, I am a volunteer teacher myself. I meet twice a week to have English lessons with a woman from Mexico. Getting to know her and her daughter has been a lot of fun, and it is incredible to see her dedication to learning English!

Besides weekly English lessons, I spend a couple days each week at the IRWP office doing any assignment the staff can find for me. Of course, I’ve done a few stereotypical tedious intern tasks, which help free the staff up to get other, important things done, but I’ve also done a variety of really fun and eye-opening activities as well. I’ll describe a few of my favorites:

  • Finding resources to help students study for the citizenship exam and interview (I learned a lot about the citizenship application and exam process as a result)

  • Assembling intercultural etiquette information to help teachers feel more comfortable when interacting with students from different cultures (intercultural communication is an interest of mine, so having the chance to learn about etiquette expectations around the world was exciting)

  • Accompanying some of the staff to meet with students and assess their English abilities (I had the chance to meet students from several different countries and get a glimpse of the effects of the program on their lives)

My internship has been an extremely positive experience so far; I’m enjoying myself and learning about different cultures and life for immigrants and refugees in the US. Plus, the IRWP office is a very positive atmosphere—the staff here are awesome (and I’m not just saying that because they’re going to read this before it gets posted)!

What have I learned so far?

I’ve already learned many lessons in the 2 months I’ve been here, which I hope to be able to carry with me in the future. Here are a few ways interning at IRWP has broadened my perspective on the world, the US, and speaking English:

  • Everyday tasks in the US are much more difficult when you don’t speak English

  • Immigrants and refugees are incredibly impressive for accomplishing everything they do in a knew country and a new language

  • The US citizenship application process is strict, intimidating, difficult, expensive, and very long

  • I speak English almost unconsciously because I learned it as a child, learning a language as an adolescent or adult is much more difficult

  • Having a successful non-profit organization means lots of paperwork, playing constant phone-tag trying to get in contact with students and volunteers, and always looking for more volunteers and funding to keep the program running

  • My Spanish is rusty; I need to brush up on my Spanish and start learning more languages because language learning is awesome!

  • Many of the IRWP students, and immigrants and refugees in the US in general, come from countries that are experiencing serious conflicts and turmoil, which can affect them intensely as individuals

  • There are a lot of resources available for immigrants and refugees in the US, but it often takes a long time to actually access those resources and people often don’t realize they have a right to certain resources (for example, translators)

Would I recommend interning or volunteering at IRWP?

Yes! I would absolutely recommend getting involved with the Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Program. There are always more students on the waiting list hoping to be paired with a teacher, and there is always work to be done at the IRWP office. Plus, getting involved with IRWP is a great way to learn more about immigration, which is obviously a very relevant issue in our country right now.

We Are Moving!

In the past two years we have had momentous growth in both program and staff. This growth has been amazing in all aspects except one, office space. We slowly began to outgrow our basement office and thus began passively looking for alternative office spaces. As we networked with our contacts we came across an opportunity that we could not pass up. We are excited to announce that in May we will be moving to 5021 Adkins Ave, in the historic Bevo Mill neighborhood.

The office space will be rooms 114 and 214 in the former St. John the Baptist High School building. The first floor space will be our program office while the second floor space will house our administrative operations. The perks of our new space include access to various meeting rooms where we can host meetings for groups of all sizes. Another perk is that we will be located among a few of our resource partners, St. Francis Community Services Southside Campus, Forai and Inter-faith Committee on Latin America.

We are very thankful for our time at St. John’s Episcopal Church. We appreciate the partnership and the space that was provided to us. We look forward to continuing to work with them.

We will keep you updated through the moving process and will inform you when our doors will officially open at 5021 Adkins Ave. Thank you for your dedicated service to Immigrant & Refugee Women's Program, we look welcoming you to our new offices in the near future.

Conversation Night

This past Wednesday, the Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Program (IRWP) hosted a Conversation Night for its students and teachers. The goal for the night was to offer students a chance to get to know each other and practice their new English skills outside of their at-home lessons. It was a night of delicious food (including baklava, hummus, fruit and veggies, and a cake), fun conversation, and games. I may be biased, but I would say the night was a smashing success.

For the first hour I was lucky enough to spend some time with our students’ awesome children. The kids enjoyed snacks, drawing, a movie, and puzzles and even got to take some children’s books home with them when the night was over. Providing childcare during events is an important part of carrying out the IRWP mission because it makes our events more accessible to students who have children. We believe it is important to make sure all our students have the option to participate and take advantage of our events. Not to mention, Conversation Night was lots of fun for the kids too.

Besides helping with the children, I also joined my student for the second half of the night to discuss our families and fill out family trees with the intermediate English group. It was amazing to see people from a variety of countries (Peru, Mexico, and Afghanistan, just to name a few) sharing common experiences and chatting and joking with each other about their families. I got the impression that the students were excited to meet other English students and to feel able to communicate with each other about their families. It was incredible to hear how many countries were represented when the students and teachers explained where all their siblings were living. One of the students at the table had ten siblings living in 7 different countries!  IRWP is really a global community!

 Students and their teachers participated in several other activities as well. The beginner English students had fun practicing using phonics flashcards to help them talk about their families too. One group also talked about their favorite foods to eat and cook; another discussed the activities the students do and how much they enjoy those activities, for example, going to work, golfing, watching TV, and having dinner with their families were just a few. A couple of the program staff also lead an activity in which students explained where they travel within St. Louis, placing pins on a map of the city in the locations where they spend the most time.

Conversation Night was a success, not to mention, a lot of fun! My student told me afterwards that she had been nervous to come and try to hold conversations in English, but that she had really enjoyed the event and felt a little more comfortable speaking in English afterwards. I think having the chance to speak with other people who are also trying to learn English is an important opportunity because it reduces the pressure students feel to speak perfectly and allows them to use English connect with people experiencing similar challenges, joys, and lessons. And I know my student’s daughter enjoyed the night too! At the end of the event she was already talking about coming back to play at the next Conversation Night! I think everyone at the event had fun and learned something too.

-Sarah, IRWP Intern

A Celebration of Volunteers and Their Service to IRWP

On a blistery evening in January the Immigrant & Refugee Women’s Program Staff and Board of Directors hosted a Volunteer Recognition Dinner at Treffpunkt (meeting place in German). The gathering was catered by a current student’s catering service, Damascus Foods.

Volunteers gathered around tables and recounted their favorite student stories. They shared tips and tricks along with phone numbers and talks of coffee in the future. Many volunteers had never met one another, some had just been involved with IRWP for a few weeks. Some were native to St. Louis and others had just moved to the city. None of that mattered, all that mattered that evening was that each person cared deeply for the immigrant and refugee community and were dedicated to making an impact through service with IRWP.

2018 Annual Report

Immigrant & Refugee Women’s Program Experiences Another Year of Growth

ST. LOUIS, January 22, 2019 -- The Immigrant & Refugee Women’s Program (IRWP) released its 2018 Annual Report on Tuesday, detailing continued growth for the program. According to the report, in 2018, 396 IRWP volunteer teachers spent 14,350 hours teaching 382 immigrant and refugee students basic English and practical living skills. These numbers reflect record increases in volunteers and students. In addition, 14 students became new US citizens, and the organization received 225 referrals for new students.

“We have seen remarkable growth in the program due to the interest of the immigrant and refugee community,” said Julie Fox, IRWP Executive Director. “Our program is unique as we provide a learning experience that is offered in the security of students’ homes, focused on their individual goals and is taught in a one-on-one format. Many of our referrals come from word of mouth because of the student’s positive experience in the program.”

There is a high demand for in-home, one-on one English and basic skills learning, as evidenced by record growth of 74% in the last two years. Currently, IRWP has over 206 students waiting to work with a volunteer teacher, and the organization is looking to recruit more volunteer teachers to help each of those students currently waiting. Volunteer teachers do not require any second language or teaching experience. IRWP provides volunteers with training and all materials.

Since 1995, IRWP has helped women arriving in St. Louis from foreign countries to make a new life in the United States. Founded by Sr. Elise Silvestri, SSND, IRWP began with six Vietnamese women students. IRWP was part of the Notre Dame Ministry Corporation until 2006 when it became a 503(c)(3).

The mission of IRWP is to increase the independence and reduce the isolation of immigrant and refugee women by teaching them basic English and practical living skills in the security of their own homes.

Meet Ryan Byrnes

Ryan Byrnes reached out to us earlier in the year to explore the possibility of donating some of the profits from his new book to IRWP. We, of course, jumped at the chance to learn more about Ryan and his upcoming release. Ryan is an author of young adult and historical fiction who has lived in the St. Louis region. He has self published four young adult novels and his newest book will be his first book with a publishing house. Royal Beauty Bright is a historical fiction novel set during World War I and the first Christmas of the war.

Ryan came to visit the IRWP offices this week to learn more about our program and talk about our partnership. We loved hearing about how he came to write his book and why he chose us to benefit from some of the profits. He told us how he really liked our mission and how we welcomed immigrants and refugees to the community.

We will be talking much more about Ryan and his novel, Royal Beauty Bright, in the coming months. Until then we encourage you to visit his website and Facebook page.

Volunteers Needed

In 2018, 396 volunteers provided over

14,000 teaching hours to 382 students!

The need for teachers at this time is great. We currently have 220+ students on the waiting list and receive new referrals weekly. Teachers do not have to have ESL or second language experience. We make the volunteer experience as easy as possible so that the teacher and student can work together and build their relationship. Interested in learning more? Give us a call at 314-771-1104.