After UN career, LSS volunteer celebrates year of mentoring refugee family
David Van Horn just celebrated his one-year anniversary as an LSS volunteer. He is a mentor in our refugee youth program.
David’s career in planning and project management took him all over the world, including Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, Central America and the Caribbean. During his time with the United Nations, he oversaw projects in Afghanistan, including infrastructure rehabilitation as well as energy and water programs.
In his retirement, in Jacksonville, the Afghan people continue to hold a special place in his heart. In addition to his volunteer service with LSS, he has also served on the board of the Afghan Hope Foundation.
As soon as LSS matched David with his refugee youth mentee and family in March 2022, he wasted no time supporting their goals as they navigated the first months of resettlement.
Van Horn is intentional with his mentee family, consistently partnering with them in their concerns and sharing new and fun experiences.
LEARN MORE: Refugee Services at Lutheran Social Services.
"The Sharistani family are lovely people facing the trauma of leaving their home and past life for a new life here in the U.S.," Van Horn said about the refugee family he works with. "Mr. Shahristani has taken an entry-level job with some benefits. I spend almost as much time talking with him as I do with his daughter, my official mentee."
With his support, our youth mentee has grown confident in asking questions, her English language skills, and holding her own as she navigates the American school system. At every mentoring session, he teaches her something new and sparks her curiosity.
"It amazes me how much English she has learned (speaking and reading) since arriving in the US in August last year," Van Horn said about his young mentee. "I expect that she will be well-prepared to take and pass the SAT exam next year. "
David goes above and beyond, seeking opportunities for our refugee clients and providing connections to our other departments to expand service provision.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of LSS--particularly in our Refugee Services program.
With LSS’ support, refugees become self-sufficient and productive residents within just 90—and often 30—days. They arrive with few possessions and often little-to-no English after fleeing violence, oppression and persecution overseas. They have left behind homes to start a life from scratch in a new country with different customs and social norms.
READ MORE: LSS kicks off 'S.H.E', a refugee women's support group, with beach trip
Many are traumatized. They arrive in debt—they have nothing but must repay the U.S. government for their travel expenses as soon as they can. Because refugees assigned to the U.S. are the most scrutinized travelers in the world, many languish in poor camps for years without work or schooling, while waiting for multiple U.S. agencies to thoroughly screen and approve them.
Becoming self-sufficient so quickly is a tall order to fill. Passionate volunteers from the community step up to prepare apartments for new arrivals and pick them up from the airport, drive clients to medical appointments, tutor them in English and other subjects, and mentor them as they navigate the nuances of life in America.
"After working in Afghanistan three different times, I came to appreciate the kindness and determination of most Afghans," Van Horn said. "Volunteering as a mentor gives me a way to express my thanks for kindnesses I have received and for the fortunate circumstance to be born in this country. My ancestors found refuge and opportunity here many years ago. I believe we should offer the same for others.
If you want to get involved and help refugees in your community, visit our Get Involved page to see current volunteer opportunities.