SOAR Immigration Legal Services in Portland, Oregon, provides culturally competent, immigration-related representation, and education to low-income refugees and immigrants in and around the Portland metro area. This past year, SOAR held their first virtual workshop with the help of Citizenshipworks, online communication tools, volunteers, and months of preparation.
After receiving an Innovation Grant from the New Americans Campaign, Caroline van der Harten, Legal Services Director at SOAR, created a three-month workflow that serves clients and volunteers remotely. Caroline focused on two goals:
“How do we service a surge of people with limited resources, and how do we continue to engage volunteers, while considering confidentiality?”
First, Caroline focuses on client outreach. She reaches out to churches, libraries, and schools to share flyers of their upcoming event. Each workshop is limited to 25 participants, all of whom are screened and prepared ahead of time.
At screening events, staff members gather eligibility information, create Citizenshipworks profiles, and collect supportive documents from the participants. SOAR's staff tracks the information in a confidential spreadsheet and follows up with clients before the workshop to ensure all information is prepared. “We want to make sure people have enough time to gather information,” says Caroline.
Next, Caroline recruits and trains volunteers from law schools, paralegal programs, community colleges, and Nike’s Pro Bono Program. These relationships have allowed SOAR to create a community of volunteers who have participated in workshops since 2010 and look forward to returning each year. SOAR trains non-legal and legal volunteers on the benefits of naturalization, Citizenshipworks, Slack, and Zoom.
On the day of the workshop, Caroline dedicates two to three staff members to “host” the event and uses Zoom to create breakout rooms. Breakout rooms are divided into the main waiting room, form preparation (Citizenshipworks) room, legal review room, volunteer break room, education room, community room, quality assurance room, and more. Up to 32 volunteers and 11 staff members are present on the day of the event, working in shifts to prevent computer fatigue and using Slack to communicate with each other.
The volunteer break room is set up to “engage partners and community members who want to support our community,” says Caroline. This allows volunteers the opportunity to take a break from the workshop and get to know each other. Education rooms allow clients to learn about naturalization topics, financial literacy, and more while waiting for their next call.
“If you do the work ahead of time, all you worry about at the end is to print,” says Caroline.
SOAR's meticulous preparation prevents an applicant from accidentally not following up or mailing their application. After the pandemic, Caroline plans to continue to host virtual events that accommodate both clients and volunteers who are further away.
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