MCB VLP Volunteer Spotlight

Irma Harpley & Cristina E. Ceron-- The International House


This month's spotlight features two volunteers at the International House, an organization whose mission is to promote international understanding by serving as a center for diversity, advocating for people of diverse national backgrounds and facilitating professional and cultural exchange programs.  In addition to hosting foreign-language conversation hours, cultural events, citizen diplomacy programs and free citizenship workshops, they also provide legal services for low-income immigrants.  Cristina E. Ceron is a law student who works with International House's Gintner Immigration Clinic.  Irma Harpley is a graduate of the CPCC Paralegal Technologies program who volunteered at the International House in order to gain practical immigration experience and continues donate time now.


Cristina E. Ceron - Intern at the Ginter Immigration Clinic, International House

I am a first generation child of two hardworking migrant parents from El Salvador, who have been proud US citizens for the last 22 years. In 2010, I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a double major in Criminal Justice and Psychology.  Upon graduating, I knew that I wanted to pursue law school.  However, before applying I wanted to gain legal experience within my community.


When I walked into International House and met the legal staff, I knew working here would be a good fit.  My experience at the International House has been nonstop learning and growing enthusiasm to help the immigrant community.  In the Ginter Immigration Clinic, I am usually the potential client's first contact.  I obtain a firsthand look into their lives, stories and predicaments - ranging from a refugee client needing help with permanent residency to someone needing legal representation in Immigration Court. 


The Ginter Immigration Clinic legal staff has put all of my initial wariness of not knowing this area of law well at ease.  The first few days the staff were there every step of the way to address any questions or concerns I might have.  As the days progressed, I became more comfortable with the Clinic's routine and now need to rely less on the staff.  


My internship offers significant challenges, particularly concerning our clients' past experiences and their suffering along the way. I have come to learn and accept that not everyone will be helped and that darkness will always exist.  Yet, I have also learned about the impact compassionate people can have on the world.  Some of my favorite moments of the internship include learning one of our clients has recently obtained their green card or has become naturalized.  Hearing the excitement in their voices serves to remind me of why I want to pursue my legal career. 


Irma Harpley - Volunteer paralegal at the International House

As a student at CPCC finishing paralegal studies, I volunteered at the International House in hopes of gaining valuable experience as an immigration paralegal. With time and a lot of help from a friendly, warm and professional staff, I grew both professionally and personally.  I learned about the various cases that immigration paralegals handle on a daily basis. I received hands-on experience on how to handle a case from the beginning to the end.


I also grew to understand how my work can have a positive impact on other people in need. Every time I left the International House I felt good about giving back to the community. I played a small part in re-uniting a family or helping somebody get a work permit. Or I simply helped a person in the process of adjusting their status, giving them a peace of mind. International House is a unique place where special people do special things every day, and I feel fortunate to be a part of it.