As a valuable member of The Episcopal Refugee and Immigrant Center Alliance (ERICA), James Byun will be working to help refugees and asylees escape from poverty. His primary efforts will involve training volunteers, fundraising, and program management.
I have lived in many different places, and this experience is what I attribute both my flexibility to new situations and enthusiasm for learning new things. I was born in Dallas, TX and was the first member of my family born in the United States. My family moved briefly to Seoul, South Korea, but my mom wanted to finish her MFA degree her in the US. So, while my dad continued his job in Seoul, my mom raised me and my two sisters in Pocatello, ID. That is where I developed my appreciation for the outdoors.
We then moved to Irvine, CA when I was in third-grade, and I lived there until I graduated high school. That is where I developed my distaste for the suburbs. I attended college at UC Berkeley and got my BA in English and subsequently lived and worked in the Bay Area. When I began my current relationship, I moved to Portland, OR. When my partner became an AmeriCorps VISTA in Baltimore, we moved out to the East Coast where we have been living the last 3 years.
I had prepared most of my life for a career in academia, but I realized that I did not want to pursue the same path as many of my family members. While looking for work in Baltimore, I started volunteering for ERICA. Here, I found an organization, and more importantly a community of people, who were dedicated to serving others. I discovered that I greatly enjoyed working with clients, using my experience and knowledge as the son of immigrants to help refugees and asylum seekers. Working with clients at a non-profit requires two primary traits that I feel been most useful for my growth as a person – empathy for others and efficacy when working with them. With the help and guidance of GHCC staff, ERICA applied for and was granted an AmeriCorps*VISTA placement, which I then was offered. Now, I am able to devote myself full-time to helping ERICA and its clients.
Working as a VISTA can be very challenging, but I love the fact that I am required to think about the long-term success of ERICA. Having that mandate inspires both a great sense of responsibility and personal investment. If there is one thing that I wish to accomplish in my time here, it is to develop a group of committed volunteers. Refugees and asylum seekers have to navigate an often bewildering array of bureaucratic systems—legal, medical, financial, educational, and many more. I want to have client advocates assist our clients with these systems, ensuring accountability from service providers and providing emotional and informational support.
Right now, I am most excited about our Around the World in 5k Fun Run/Walk that is taking place on September 28th on the Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus. This fundraiser will benefit ERICA’s Family Reunification Program that helps clients bring their family members to the US after often years of separation due to war and oppression. Many of our clients and their families will be there to participate and I am looking very forward to seeing all the members of our community coming together. You can still sign up and join us! www.erica-baltimore.org