Local Women: Shirin Timms

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Connecting Communities

Thanksgiving is a time of gathering and focusing on what we are grateful for. For Shirin Timms, executive director at the Refugee Development Center in Lansing and a professor of political science at Jackson Community College, this is a day to day perspective. “I believe in generosity, I think we should always try to be generous with our hearts, minds and knowledge,” Timms said. Timms used to celebrate her Thanksgivings with new comers to the city and introduce them to holiday customs. “We would go around the table and talk about what we were all thankful for,” says Timms. “It was really moving to hear what these people were grateful for and such a valuable experience.” Along with welcoming newcomers, Timms enjoys cooking with her family and spending time with people she cares about. Timms’ passion for helping others has played a big role in her success. She started as a volunteer ten years ago and has continued to excel ever since. She fell in love with helping the newcomers feel at home in their community and the opportunities really fit in with what she wanted out of her life. “I never expected to come this far, but every new opportunity excited and challenged me,” said Timms. “Each took me a little further and now here I am, so grateful to have found work that is rewarding and energizing. It feeds my soul.” The mission of the Refugee Development Center is education and helping newcomers find the recourses they need to be successful. Timms, along with staff and more than 380 volunteers work at the center providing English classes for adults, after school programs for children ages K-12, summer camps, sports programs and many beneficial community programs. The center continues to succeed because of volunteers and is greatly powered by people at the grassroot level. The staff she works with are also critical in coordinating everything. “Connecting the center to the community is vital for the community to understand how valuable these new neighbors are,” says Timms. “Our outreach to blend these communities ensures the people from all over the world can feel at home and welcome.” As the executive director, Timms gets the chance to work with many community partners. She has had the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships on her journey to provide welcoming pathways for the refugees. “I learn something from everyone I meet and find comfort that I can turn to them for support, guidance and wisdom when I need it,” Timms said. “We all can learn something of value from the people we meet and the refugee population. It keeps me going and I cannot wait to see what new relationships will bring to my life.” Timms hopes that the center will become a place that symbolizes how much value the newcomers can be to the community. “I want everyone to believe how great of a community resource these people are. We here can see how amazing it is, but I want everyone to see how great these people are. I hope the community can continue to welcome them into their lives, you never know what pathways will open when you are generous.”
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