by ANNA GROOVER
Diane Legomsky, former executive director of the Bloomington Refugee Support Network (BRSN), recalls how BRSN coordinator Savannah Powell arrived at a public event for the volunteer- run nonprofit organization. Powell greeted Legomsky with a question: “What can I do?”
For Legomsky, that mindset embodies Powell’s three-year involvement with BRSN. “She’s a determined person and determined in the best way—just determined to make life better for immigrant households,” Legomsky says.
Founded in 2016, BRSN helps refugees and asylum-seekers fleeing persecution or violence in their country of origin to settle in Bloomington by providing them with a full circle of support, including legal and financial assistance and friendship.
The coronavirus pandemic has made a difficult life even more difficult for refugees and asylum seekers. Restaurants where many of them work were shuttered and the legal asylum-seeking process stalled.
Powell, 22, a nursing student at Indiana University, dug in to help. As a BRSN coordinator, she guides families through their asylum application, translates documents, and connects them to local resources for life’s necessities.
During the pandemic, she and her fellow BRSN volunteers have tackled the heightened number of rent and food requests they’ve received from now-jobless clients. Powell also stepped into a leadership role—training new coordinators to work with families.
Powell became involved in immigration advocacy in high school after volunteering as a translator for a legal clinic. She says attending a language immersion school, where she learned Spanish, gave her a shared experience with clients. “I connected with the people I was helping because I knew what it was like being in a situation where you don’t know the language and you feel really self-conscious and uncomfortable and lonely,” she says.
While she currently works part time at IU Health Bloomington Hospital and dances with IU’s Swing Dance Club, she has her sights set internationally—specifically, serving as a nurse in refugee camps.
BRSN’s leadership feel grateful to have Powell in their court. “She has great passion to help people in need. She has extraordinary empathy,” says Pete Lenzen, co-executive director.
To donate, volunteer, or learn more, visit bloomingtonrefugees.org.