Domonoske provides immigrant outreach


Courtesy of Alison Domonoske

Domonoske (front left) poses in front of a statue on a Newsstreak trip.

With a major in global studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Alison Domonoske spent the summer after her 2015 graduation abroad in Ramallah in the West Bank. Wanting to travel and improve her Arabic language skills, she worked as a teaching assistant at the “I Know I Can” summer academy where she tutored Palestinian high school students in SAT prep.  

After returning to the U.S., Domonoske began working at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Charlottesville, Virginia through AmeriCorps, a voluntary service program. With the title of Economic Empowerment Associate, Domonoske, along with a team of three other people, helped place newly-arrived refugees into their first jobs in the Charlottesville area. She also taught job readiness and financial literacy classes to every adult who went through the IRC.

“Before my job I didn’t have that understanding that even going to a job interview, especially your first job interview in a new country, how daunting that can be for people.  Everything is tied up in our ability to survive and provide for our family, and trying to guide people through that process in a new country is very difficult,” Domonoske said.

Because her time at the IRC coincided with the 2016 election and President Donald Trump’s initial policies, she was also able to see the impact it had firsthand.  

“I think that if I hadn’t been working at the IRC at that time, I would have much less understanding of the very human impact that some of these policies, such as the travel ban or refugee ban, have,” Domonoske said. “The day after Trump won, we sat down with our clients and explained, ‘Yes you may have many family members back in your home country, but now they may never or for a long time won’t be able to join you here in the U.S.’”

Though Domonoske’s year-long AmeriCorps position lasted until September of 2016, she stayed with the IRC for three more months working with their casework team, which helped their clients with any social services or life needs. She then took on a job search looking for work in that similar field.

“Working with my clients at the IRC, seeing how the refugee resettlement program works and seeing all of the political backlash around immigration and refugees… made me realize that  immigration, in my mind, is a very fundamental human right,” Domonoske said. “I had studied human rights in school, it was something that I was very passionate about, and it felt like something that was definitely under threat in the U.S. In my mind, I thought that if I could help in this country to make sure we respect everybody no matter where they’re from, then I wanted to continue doing that.”

She found herself in Arlington, Virginia after taking her current job at the Tahirih Justice Center. With it being an immigration law nonprofit organization, Domonoske works with many attorneys who help immigrant women and children who are survivors of violence or abuse. One of her roles in the organization is to work with volunteers.

“I’m trying to get more volunteers involved in our office. We do rely on and have relied on volunteers in the past for interpreting different meetings, maybe between an attorney and a client, or translating a legal document from another country in another language,” Domonoske said. “I’m working on having volunteers who come into the office on a weekly basis, so I’ll recruit them from different groups in the community and then, based on their skills, see how they may be able to help us in the office.”

Another aspect of Domonoske’s position is to coordinate outreach to the immigrant community in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area, and attend community events where she speaks with other organizations that serve immigrant women and seeks out anyone who could be a potential Tahirih client.

“I really enjoy going to community events. I like just being able to talk to people and explain the work that Tahirih does. We deal with a certain kind of visa and you have to meet strict requirements to apply for it, but many people who may even be eligible for it don’t even know it exists and have never heard of Tahirih. Being able to introduce people to our work and hearing other people’s stories is what I really enjoy,” Domonoske said.   

Though she doesn’t work directly with the clients at Tahirih, she has come to know their stories through her close work with the attorneys and social service workers and has increasingly had her eyes opened to the reality of many of their situations. Growing up with a grandfather who emigrated from the Philippines and was able to get a good job and send his kids to college, Domonoske’s view on immigration in the United States has changed because of her work experiences.

“As a white, native-born American, I didn’t see that much racial or ethnic tension or hatred towards immigrants…. Harrisonburg was this wonderful place to live with people from all over the world, [so I thought] of course anyone can come to the U.S. and have a good life and be accepted,” Domoske said. “I think that working at the IRC and with all of the politics of 2015 and 2016, made me realize that’s not necessarily true, and that realization was very upsetting to me and made me want to do something about it, so that’s why I’m still doing this work.”

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