Diverse Volunteers United by Compassion



Courtesy of Emily Easton

Emilie Easton

Age: 21

At a Glance: I’m from Michigan and came to Tallahassee because of FSU’s First Year Abroad program. (My first year of college was in Spain and England.) I will graduate with a degree in international affairs and criminology in 2018 and plan to go into immigration/human rights law.

Volunteer History: I’ve been working with Tallahassee’s Student Refugee Outreach since the end of last March. I tutor, and I also help with child care while parents are tutored.

Favorite Aspect of Volunteering: Being able to see the progress of those I work with.

Favorite Volunteer Moment:  My middle school student and I were making Mother’s Day cards. I noticed that my student was making two cards, but she wouldn’t let me see them. At the end of the lesson, she gave me one of the cards. It read, “Happy Mother’s Day! I am so thankful to have you. I love Emilie.”

Before I started volunteering, I thought I might not be able to connect with or properly assist the refugees, since I’m young and don’t speak Swahili, Arabic or Kinyarwanda (the official language of Rwanda).

Now I think … that if I can’t directly assist my Congolese and Syrian friends with something, I’m confident that I can at least point them in the direction of someone who can.


Courtesy of Kathy Ladle

Kathy Ladle

Age: 44

Bio: I’m a wife and the mother of two beautiful daughters, ages 19 and 11.

Volunteer History: I’ve been a volunteer in Leon County Schools for 15 years. I started volunteering with the refugees at Riley Elementary last fall.

Favorite Volunteer Moment: When we played a game of Uno with the kids. It was relaxed, and they weren’t under any kind of pressure.

Before I started volunteering, I thought … I might not have what it takes to help these children, as I do not speak Swahili.

Now I think … One person can make a difference. Simple teaching techniques, games and songs are beneficial to these children. Throw in love, positive reinforcement and some Skittles, and you have the makings of a successful tutoring session.


John Searcy

Age: 24

Bio:  I’m from Jacksonville, and I just graduated from FSU with a degree in criminology and international affairs. I’m now seeking my medical school prerequisites. Eventually, I’d like to work overseas for Doctors Without Borders or a similar organization.

Volunteer History: I was one of the first volunteers to work with Syrian refugees at Astoria Park.

Favorite Aspect of Volunteer Work: Seeing the children progress with their language abilities.

Before I started volunteering, I thought …  that working with Arabic-speaking children would really help me with my Arabic.

Now I think …  It’s not about us, as volunteers; it’s about the kids.


Courtesy of Liz Byington

Liz Byington

Age: 40

Bio: My family and I have lived in Tallahassee for two years. My husband is a pathologist, and we have five children.

Volunteer History: I work with two groups of second-graders and one group of first-graders.

Favorite Aspect of Volunteer Work: The kids are so sweet; they find joy in the smallest things. The first time I gave one of the kids a Skittle, he popped it in, and then he pulled it out again to look at it.

Before I started volunteering, I thought … I’m just a mom, without any ESOL training. I’m just going to use what I know to help these kids.

Now I think …  these kids, who have lost everything, are so appreciative and so full of joy and excitement. I don’t want the difficulties they encounter here to take that joy and excitement from them. I want them to succeed.


Karen Duncan

Age: 41

Bio: My husband and I have three kids, and we moved to Tallahassee five years ago for his job at FSU. I teach piano lessons and enjoy reading, exercising and being outdoors.

Volunteer History: I started volunteering with the IRC in June of 2016, gathering and sorting donations, helping with apartment setups and driving refugees to appointments. I began tutoring at Riley in September of 2016.

Favorite Volunteer Moment: When I asked one of the kids about his family, and he was so proud to be able to say that his mom has a job.

Before I started volunteering, I thought … Since I didn’t have a degree in ESOL education or any formal training, I was skeptical of how much I could help.

Now I think … It doesn’t require an extensive degree to help these kids. Forget yourself and jump in.


Courtesy of Shellie Newman

Shellie Newman

Age: 63

Bio:  I am a mother of four children, all grown, and my husband and I have lived in Tallahassee for the last 20 years. I love music!

Volunteer History:  I volunteered at my children’s schools while they were attending, and currently, I work with the refugees at Riley. I also engage in other service projects associated with JustServe.org.

Favorite Volunteer Moment:  On our last day with them this past school year, we sat down and played games and just talked with them. It was amazing to me to see how far their language skills had come.

Before I started volunteering, I thought …  that I couldn’t do it because I had no official training, and I was a tiny bit scared. OK, I was totally scared!

Now, I think …  I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to meet these exceptional children and to learn more about them.


Read more about Tallahassee's Refugees

Agency Works to Make Refugees Self-Sufficient

New to a Land of Dreams

Ways to Get Involved

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