Rachel Louise Gast, 27: ‘Unusually talented’ at helping refugees

Recent victims of war and oppression who came to Atlanta under the auspices of the International Rescue Committee got a first-class guide to a better life in Rachel Gast.

An unpaid IRC intern just out of college in 2007, she rose quickly to become workplace employment coordinator at the aid organization’s Atlanta office.

“Rachel was unusually talented at finding good employment fits for refugees and coaching them on holding down a job in an unfamiliar environment,” said the IRC’s regional director, Ellen Beattie of Atlanta. “She also was good at persuading employers to hire them.”

Gast helped establish what the IRC calls its Hospitality Academy, which prepares refugees for jobs in hotels, primarily as housekeepers. But she also found jobs for IRC clients in light manufacturing, retail warehouses, poultry processing, industrial bakeries and child care. In addition, she assisted her clients in locating decent child care, using public transportation and car pools, and managing their often complex schedules.

One of Gast’s most difficult assignments was to help caregivers who came here from Haiti accompanying intensive-care hospital patients who had to be evacuated after the terrible 2010 earthquake.

“Somehow,” Beattie said, “Rachel managed to find jobs for a dozen of these caregivers, and they loved her for what she did.”

Rachel Louise Gast, 27, of Atlanta died Oct. 14 at Grady Memorial Hospital of injuries suffered Oct. 9 in an auto accident. Her memorial service was held Saturday at the Zoar United Methodist Church in Snellville. Her family plans a private burial service for her Monday at Parkhill Cemetery in Columbus, followed by a reception for friends at 2 p.m. at Edgewood United Methodist Church. Tim Stewart Funeral Home, Snellville, is in charge of arrangements.

Born in Columbus, Gast came to metro Atlanta with her parents when she was 1 year old. A South Gwinnett High School alumnus, she earned a bachelor’s degree in international affairs at the University of Georgia and began working this fall toward a master’s in public administration at Georgia State University.

During her college years and afterward, Gast found ways to learn about different cultures, taking study trips and recreational travel to Italy, Britain, Germany, Spain, Malta, Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica.

Naima Abdullahi of Decatur, an IRC colleague, was once a refugee herself. She came to this country with her family from Kenya in 1988.

“Rachel had no experience as a refugee, yet she came to understand the refugee mindset,” Abdullahi said. “Somehow she was able to overcome cultural and language barriers to get through to our clients, to understand and be understood. It helped that she was always upbeat and able to make fun of difficult circumstances.”

Survivors include her parents, Philip Jr. and Susan Gast of Snellville; her brothers, Andrew Gast and William Gast, both of Snellville; her maternal grandmother, Nevelyn Counts of Columbus; and her paternal grandparents, Lt. Gen (Ret.) Philip and Kay Gast of Durham, N.C.