GREENVILLE — Mendi Drayton has joined Catholic Charities as coordinator of immigration services for the Piedmont Deanery.
Drayton, 28, started work at the Greenville office during the second week of September.
Her responsibilities include helping immigrants and their families negotiate a maze of immigration documentation and paperwork, and helping to connect them with social services and other resources in the Upstate.
Her fluency in Spanish helps, she says, because most of the clients the office encounters are Hispanic, and many do not speak English or have limited fluency.
“I’m very glad to be here, and I’ve discovered that this work is very much needed,” Drayton said during a recent phone interview. “Since I’ve been here the phones are ringing constantly.”
Clients can turn to Drayton for help in replacing lost documents, applying for citizenship, and learning how to begin the process of bringing children and other family members to the U.S.
She said she is able to provide help for legal immigrants, but there is not much the office can do for those who have entered illegally except provide information.
Drayton’s enthusiasm for her work and interest in her clients makes her a natural for the position, according to Sister Margie Hosch, regional coordinator for Catholic Charities in the Piedmont Deanery.
“Her personality is one of her greatest assets,” Sister Margie said. “She is young, filled with energy, and ingratiating to our clients. She gives a welcome to anyone who comes into the office.”
Sister Margie said Drayton’s background in social services is a big asset.
In addition to her own work on immigration issues, Drayton is often called on to help translate for people who come to the office seeking financial assistance or information about mental health and social services.
Drayton was born in Columbia and grew up in North Augusta. She graduated from Duke University in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in public policy and is also a 2003 graduate of the University of South Carolina Law School.
Her concern for the needs of families has taken her to Costa Rica and the Philippines. During the summer of 1998, she worked on community development projects in Costa Rica with Duke’s Service Opportunities in Leadership program.
In 2000-01, she received a Hart Fellowship to work in child and family services in Baguio, a city in the north Philippines, where she focused on child protection and juvenile justice.
Drayton said she has always been interested in working with people in need, and frequently volunteered at soup kitchens and other programs during her college years.
Her interest in immigration issues was piqued by a class on immigration law she took while at USC. The class was taught by Glenda Bunce, a bilingual attorney who now is coordinator for immigration services for Catholic Charities in South Carolina.
Drayton also learned more about immigration during a summer job with the North Carolina Occupational Society and Health Project during her junior year.
“We worked with a lot of migrant workers that summer, and I saw what problems they faced and what a big issue their situation had become,” Drayton said.
She said her job with Catholic Charities allows her to combine her concerns for immigration issues with her interest in issues facing families and children.
Drayton said one of her main goals in the next few months is to network with parishes and organizations in the Upstate so that people who work with immigrants can become more aware of the services and programs available to them.
“If we can get the word out to the community about what is available to immigrants, then we can more quickly provide them with what they need,” she said.
To reach the Piedmont Office of Immigration Services for the Diocese of Charleston, call (864) 242-2233.