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US Immigrants Help Each Other on Holidays

Immigrants face the problem of adjusting to a new country, which is all the more difficult at the holidays. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, some immigrants in the United States are helping recent arrivals and finding fulfillment in the process.

Vilen Chernyak, an immigrant from Ukraine, came with his wife to Los Angeles in 2000. A retired physics researcher, he soon became involved with community organizations, including Jewish Family Services. Chernyak is a Russian speaker and a volunteer translator for other immigrants. He also chairs the resident council in his apartment building.

"Now, when I am retired from my former profession, it's a way for me to satisfy my natural requirements to be useful to the part of society whose needs I understand very well," said Chernyak.

Another immigrant from Ukraine named Raisa Fayman was inspired by the volunteers who helped her when she arrived in America in 1989. She now works with other immigrants, helping with things like paying phone bills.

"I never had the joy of giving," said Fayman. "In my culture, no one taught us how to do that. We never knew it exists. And here, I'm just getting so much joy, and people get joy from me.

In other part of the city, Chinese immigrants deliver holiday gifts to a Latino family.

Karen Lee is a volunteer for the Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist charity group based in Taiwan.

"We are sending holiday gift packs to our long-term care families," said Karen Lee. "Those families suffer financially, or sometimes they need emotional support. So during the holiday season, we will visit each family and bring some joy to them."

Estonian immigrant Marina Berkman directs a program for seniors and disabled people, operated by Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles. Berkman, a psychologist, says immigrants need practical help and emotional support. She says the experience of immigration can be jolting.

"People lose everything," said Marina Berkman. "They lose their country, their language, the familiarity of their neighborhood, the familiarity of their weather and nature and roots to their childhood and their friends and their jobs and their social status, and they have to start from scratch, from the very, very beginning.

She says immigrants can find a sense of meaning helping others like themselves, and that both the giver and recipient can gain a sense of satisfaction.