Above: Jahaira Sanchez and PC client Hamida Alvi at IILA’s 2023 Afternoon of Appreciation, where Hamida was a speaker and shared about her resettlement journey.
Staff Spotlight is a series that highlights and celebrates the dedicated staff of International Institute of Los Angeles.
June 16, 2023
Serving the Greatest Needs
Jahaira Sanchez joined IILA in September of 2021 and now serves as the Program Coordinator/Case Manager for IILA’s Preferred Communities (PC) program for refugee intensive case management. Through this key role, she connects especially vulnerable refugees with wrap-around services as they end their initial 90-day resettlement period and our basic refugee services. The PC program is open to refugees who might face additional challenges in their resettlement, including at-risk women, the elderly, those with significant physical or mental health challenges, LGBTQ+ refugees, and others. Each day, Jahaira advises these clients on how to continue to adjust to life in the United States, connects them to key resources like public benefits, housing information, and legal guidance, and much more. “The work is about meeting clients in their current circumstances,” she says. “You have to be able to identify their needs and what you can do through the program to support them in becoming more self-sufficient.”
Jahaira has been in the field of case management for seven years now and has worked with diverse populations over the course of her career. “I decided to become a case manager because I enjoy helping and assisting those in need. I was motivated to do this work because I felt it was my calling and I enjoy being able to make a difference in people’s lives,” she says. In recalling a particularly memorable client from a previous organization, she explains how, “I was able to impact this youth’s life so much, and they of course wanted to change and were receptive to interventions. This client did a complete 180 with their life and I was very proud of them. It was one of my first clients ever, and I worked with them 7 years ago. About four years ago, we ran into each other and exchanged information to stay connected. It was very heartwarming to know that they still were doing very well and have maintained a positive lifestyle.”
Immediately before joining IILA, Jahaira worked with the LA County Department of Mental Health assisting adults who were previously incarcerated. “It was personally challenging because oftentimes clients were meeting with me just to fulfill an obligation. So they weren’t always invested in our conversations. In contrast, I love my work with IILA because I get to assist clients as family units who really do want to grow and change their circumstances. They are choosing to participate. I also prefer to work with clients as families since a person’s well-being is usually tied to the well-being of their family, which is especially true for our refugee clients. I get to be part of helping the whole family with their transformation.”
Jahaira also values the freedom this role offers her to creatively address client needs and to grow as a professional. “The Preferred Communities program is so broad that it allows me to mold and shape it to best respond to what clients really need to support their integration and growth. Wrap-around services can really encompass so many areas of need, and it’s so valuable to get to work alongside clients for up to a year to help them achieve their goals. I’m also grateful that IILA gave me the opportunity to take up the leadership of the program from its beginning at the agency and guide its unfolding. I have really grown personally and professionally from that experience so far.” The program certainly also has had its set of challenges, as most do when first implemented. She notes that language barriers have been one of the largest hurdles, especially because she prefers to have very consistent, direct interaction with clients in order to establish trust and positive connections. Since most of Jahaira’s clients are Afghan refugees with a language and customs very different from her own, finding the right fit in an interpreter was key to the program’s success. It took time before she found the right match in someone who could convey both the meaning and feeling behind what she was trying to share with clients to build that necessary trust. Now with the help of her IILA Interpreter, Jahaira can build the rapport with clients that is instrumental to their growth.
Building these relationships with clients and seeing their progress is what Jahaira finds most rewarding in her role and case management work. She has had the opportunity to see clients develop greater trust in her and the PC program over time, even amidst such great cultural differences and language barriers. From there, they are able to make strides in their personal growth. “Many of my male Afghan clients were initially resistant to even speaking with me as a woman and after having to navigate so many other systems and resources,” she explains. “It took them some time to realize that I’m someone they can trust. From consistent, caring communication, though, they’ve learned that I’m committed to their case. Now, they take the initiative to share their personal updates. I check my phone on Monday morning, and their messages are already there waiting for me, telling me how their weekend went.”
Through these positive connections, Jahaira can better help clients make progress towards self-sufficiency and integration. From their openness and honesty, she can gain better insight into their current struggles and ways to assist. Many clients have difficult obstacles to overcome as they build their lives in the United States, but even small changes are big wins. “Sometimes clients can’t see this growth in themselves,” Jahaira comments. “When that happens, I get to reflect back to them what I see in them, how they have changed or what they’ve accomplished, and encourage them not to give up.”
Teamwork and the Road Ahead
Jahaira is grateful for her team, the support of her Director, and the opportunities that IILA has already offered her. When her work becomes challenging, she notes that what helps her is “taking a deep breath, remembering why I do what I do and my support team. I would not be able to do it without them behind me.” She is proud of her accomplishments—having been promoted twice within one year—and looks forward to seeing what the future may hold. She hopes to continue growing at IILA as a team player for all intensive case management services and in time would like to help meet other client needs by proposing a new program, securing its funding, and leading its implementation. In her free time, you can find Jahaira enjoying her many hobbies—traveling, taking road trips, spending time with her loved ones, going to concerts, catching a sports game (football, baseball, hockey), cooking, riding her motorcycle, reading, and going to the beach.
Director of Intensive Case Management Services, Susay Michael, reflects on Jahaira’s hard work and commitment: “With great pleasure we recognize Jahaira Sanchez for her role as Preferred Communities Coordinator. She is a great example of IILA leadership in her dedication to clients we serve. Jahaira has an ability to focus on the job at hand with thoughtfulness and in detail. She provides opportunities for our clients through advocacy which begins with actively listening to the needs of her clients. Her performance is representative of the IILA’s model of allyship that is necessary to empower clients. As evidenced in the client feedback, her commitment to the case management process offers clients the support needed to obtain self-sufficiency, self-respect and self-care. In addition to client support, Jahaira is a team player and supports our staff with a positive attitude, insightfulness, and great ideas. Although we would take the 100%, Jahaira offers 110%. We appreciate Jahaira Sanchez for her professional fortitude!”
IILA is grateful for all that Jahaira has done and continues to do for her clients and IILA at large. We applaud her dedication, embodiment of IILA values, and ingenuity to creatively meet the needs she sees around her. Thank you, Jahaira!