With Kay Trendell’s recent retirement from LSG after her 30 year tenure with Refugee Services, I’ve been thinking a lot about my beginnings with the agency (I’ve had two of them so far) and Kay’s significant role in both! My first “beginning” more than 20 years ago when I was hired as the Special Needs Employment Counselor for refugees receiving cash assistance from the state of Georgia, the ones who had the most barriers to employment.
Fresh out of seminary, with a little urban ministry experience and a lot of passion for working cross-culturally but absolutely no concrete skills in finding jobs for anyone but myself, I happened to get lucky and got to share an office with Kay! She taught me not only everything I needed to know about finding jobs for refugees, but more importantly she helped me grasp the bigger picture – that it wasn’t just about the jobs, but about the refugees and the new life they were beginning in a new country. It wasn’t about the refugees' plight, but their promise, their incredible resilience, and their willingness to work sometimes three jobs at once to save and build a future for their children.
After several years, I went on to work in other avenues of ministry in both congregations and in the community, but through Kay’s mentorship, refugees had found a place in my heart to stay. If there was any opportunity to engage with refugees in whatever work I was doing, I always sought that out. I found that I missed working with refugees more and more as the years passed, thus my second “beginning” with LSG when, in May 2010, Kay hired me to be the volunteer coordinator for Refugee Services. It’s a “dream job’ for me – being back with Lutheran Services of Georgia (I’m actually a Lutheran now and grateful to serve in a Lutheran agency), working in a multicultural setting again, and every day engaging people and congregations in service to one of the world’s most vulnerable, yet most resilient populations – refugees. But by far, one of the best things about my second “beginning” with LSG has been, for the past year, getting to work with Kay again.
Kay, I’ll miss seeing you everyday - but your lasting presence will be felt at LSG and in Refugee Services: in the talented and dedicated staff you put together, in the wonderful array of programs and services for refugees you developed, and undergirding it all, in the joy we experience (most of the time!) in the work we do. Enjoy your new beginning!
By Melanie Johnson, Refugee Services Volunteer Coordinator