WESST Staff Volunteers with IRRVA

By Katie Knipe | January 25, 2023

In December, WESST’s staff from across the state gathered in Albuquerque for our biannual 2-day Statewide Staff Meeting. The WESST team traditionally spends a segment of our winter Statewide Staff Meeting giving back to our community by volunteering with a local organization. On December 9, 2023, the WESST team spent a few hours at the Immigrant and Refugee Resource Village of Albuquerque helping with cleaning and organization.

The mission of the Immigrant and Refugee Resource Village of Albuquerque (IRRVA) is to promote empowerment and provide support to the most vulnerable immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and other vulnerable under-served local people in Bernalillo New Mexico, in order to build healthy and productive children and their families. IRRVA provides supportive programs and resources for immigrants and refugees from Africa, such as after school tutoring and ESL resources. Tutoring is a critical resource for both children and adults. The IRRVA building is usually bustling with kids and moms! In addition to these programs, one of the most important functions of IRRVA is to provide a sense of community for African immigrants and refugees in our city. It is motivating and inspiring for new residents to meet other immigrants who are a few steps ahead and realize, “if they can do it, I can survive, too.”

WESST Business Consultant and Trainer, Neema Pickett, introduced us to this crucial community resource. Neema and IRRVA founder Nkazi Sinandile, a.k.a. “Mama Nkazi,” have been long-time family friends. When Neema moved from California to New Mexico as a child, she saw a few kids practicing the traditional Gumboot Dance because their mom – Mama Nkazi – was making them practice. Neema could relate because her mom encouraged her to perform and sing, too! The kids became friends and Neema’s parents began to learn about the work occurring within the immigrant community, and Neema’s mom, a professional storyteller, began visiting IRRVA to lead storytelling events with the children. When Neema was pursuing her degree in Clinical Psychology years later, she got involved with the UNM Refugee Well Being Program, reconnected with IRRVA, and coordinated UNM students to help with advocacy work.

We are so grateful that Neema introduced us to Mama Nkazi and the great work of IRRVA! We were asked to help clean up and reorganize the IRRVA building, so we told Mama Nkazi to sit back and relax and we got to work. A group of us took ownership of organizing what would become a children’s nook, stocked with shelves of hundreds of children’s books, little chairs and tables, a play kitchen and art supplies. Some helped outside by tidying the garden area in preparation for planting garden beds in the spring. We organized and consolidated food and other building supplies and finished it all off by vacuuming and mopping.

The WESST team was so excited and proud of the transformation, and most importantly, Mama Nkazi was pleased! We were all incredibly touched by Mama Nkazi and her gratitude. She experienced a serious health scare in 2022 and described how she felt that God meant for her to heal so she could witness the outpouring of support from WESST. It was incredibly rewarding to help clean and organize the space and visualizing all of the children and families enjoying the space and everything IRRVA has to offer!

To learn more about the Immigrant and Refugee Resource Village of Albuquerque, visit their website, https://irrva.com/.

About the Author


Katie Knipe

Katie Knipe is the VP of Development for WESST and has worked in nonprofit management and arts administration for the past decade. She has dedicated her career to fundraising for organizations whose missions fuel her fire, including those who promote classical music performance and who serve people experiencing homelessness.

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