by CVT volunteer Lara Palmquist
The Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights (BCRHHR) started as a small clinic in 1998 and now provides a range of services to approximately 450 survivors of torture from more than 70 countries.
A spirit of collaboration has guided the center’s mission since its beginning. Recognizing that a holistic approach is needed to meet the needs of their clients, BCRHHR leadership has created an atmosphere in which all staff are encouraged to respect each other’s expertise and to rely on one another for support. “We meet weekly as a team to discuss all center issues and events, and are also all available to each other whenever there is a need,” says BCRHHR Data Coordinator Amy Shepherd. “There is a constant connection among us, which is important as we offer many services. We all specialize in different areas and we all want to provide the best possible outcomes for our clients.”
This outlook ensures that clients needing care can seek comprehensive treatment in the same place on the same day--no small matter in a city such as Boston, where transportation costs can prove prohibitive. Center staff form an interdisciplinary core group that provide services in psychotherapy, housing counseling, career development, and legal assistance in a single appointment in order to meet the broad needs of clients.
One example of BCRHHR’s work is the Job Readiness Workshop, which helps clients maximize the use of their time while they wait for employment authorization. “This is accomplished by helping asylum seekers prepare resumes, practice interviewing and job searching, find volunteer opportunities, network, and learn about workplace culture in the United States,” explains BCRHHR Program Administrator Erica Hastings. “They are then better positioned to find higher paying jobs in their areas of experience once they do have work authorization, rather than needing to take the first low-paying job they can find.”
Other initiatives at the Center include research projects to examine and improve the services offered to survivors of torture, with the aim of sharing relevant findings and engaging in conversation with other healing centers. The staff is also currently writing a paper on the development and evaluation of the center’s Refugee Patient Navigator Program, and is examining results from research on various psychotherapy techniques.
In September, the Center will host a one-day conference on holistic care for refugees and survivors of torture. BCRHHR will also host a restaurant fundraiser that will feature international recipes from a cookbook BCRHHR clients created. While the staff at BCRHHR celebrates the center’s effectiveness and scope, they ultimately dream of time when there will no longer be a place for the organization at all. “Our wish for the world is that there would ultimately be no need for our services,” says BCRHHR Program Director Linda Piwowarczyk. “That there would be no more victims of torture.”