Raleigh Immigrant Community: A Refugee Community-Based Program

Community organizations led by former refugees have a unique perspective for working with refugee populations. In Raleigh, NC, Raleigh Immigrant Community (RIC) capitalizes on this unique perspective to provide complimentary resettlement services to refugees for up to five years after arrival in the U.S. RIC provides employment services, cultural orientation, case management, interpretation services, community referrals, and English conversation round tables. Elias Njiru, Program Director of RIC, spoke with Higher about their services and how they support refugees beyond initial resettlement.

Like most new organizations, RIC was formed to respond to perceived gaps in services. RIC received initial assistance to address the mental health needs of refugees from a group of University of North Carolina (UNC) students and Refugee Wellness, a UNC Refugee Mental Health and Wellness Initiative.  Now with the support of a grant from ORR’s Ethnic Community Self-Help Program RIC is able to focus on key areas of effective integration, such as employment, language proficiency, and cultural orientation, in addition to mental health. As a refugee led and focused organization, refugees comprise over 60% of their board of directors and their staff is primarily refugees and immigrants. RIC’s client recruitment occurs directly in the Raleigh-Durham community through collaboration with the local resettlement agencies.

  • Client Success: RIC enrolled a refugee with substance abuse challenges who was homeless and on the verge of losing their employment. RIC provided a referral to treatment and rehabilitation, a connection to transitional housing, and an employer intervention. Today, the client is working full time and maintaining sobriety.

By offering free interpretation services to employers who hire refugees, RIC forges successful partnerships with businesses. Interpretation is available in Swahili, Lingala, Chiluba, Sango, French, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, and Pashtu.

  • Employer Success: One local employer has hired over 30 refugees through RIC. Due to the needs of their new employees, the employer modified their orientation process. The employer also uses the RIC interpretation services to communicate pertinent employment information to their new employees.

Partnering with community-based organizations like RIC benefits refugees throughout the integration process.

For more information on RIC, email raleighimmigrant@gmail.com.

How do you partner with community organizations like RIC? Share with us at information@higheradvantage.org.

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Tips from the Field: Safety Training – Workplace Signs

In a previous blog post we examined safety gear, today we will discuss how safety training is crucial in job readiness and ESL classes.  Understanding the importance of workplace safety signs provides refugees with the communication tools necessary to navigate employer rules. Not following safety rules and regulations can lead to workplace injuries and/or termination. Jessica Ploen, Career Advancement Specialist from LFS of Nebraska, shares a job safety activity and strategy that she uses in work-focused ESL classes to prepare refugees for their new workplaces.

  • Job Safety and Warning Signs Memory Game: The picture above provides the basis of the memory game. Print, duplicate and detach each sign. Lay the cards out upside-down and give each participant a turn to flip over and match two cards. Each card is explained and considered as they are matched. The memory game gives job readiness providers a way to select specific signs or highlight key vocabulary to increase a refugee’s knowledge of on the job safety. Jessica also suggests using signs that are common among your employer partners and asking the employers to share their safety orientation presentations or handbooks with you. In that way, you will know what workplace specific safety aspects to teach and reinforce during the game. “I took photos at different companies and showed them in class. I find the “Smoke-Free Workplace” sign especially helpful, as many students incorrectly believe that the sign designates an area where you are free to smoke,” says Jessica.

A knowledge of common workplace signs is useful as refugees learn how U.S. workplaces function. Providing workplace sign safety training in job readiness and ESL classes sets clients up to follow safety rules and guidelines successfully.

What are some ways that you incorporate safety training in your job readiness curriculum? Share with us at information@higheradvantage.org!

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Paid Writing Opportunity for Refugees

Here’s an opportunity for your clients to boost their resumes, make some money, and share their perspective with others. The Refugee Center Online is looking for refugee and immigrant authors to write Refugee Voices articles on a variety of topics.  You can see more details and the upcoming monthly themes here.

While you’re visiting the Refugee Center Online’s website, check out Dyan’s inspirational story and consider sharing it in your job readiness class.  Dyan came to the U.S. as a refugee from Burma and has worked as the Karen Cultural Specialist at the St. Paul Public Schools district headquarters. He was recently selected as a Bush Fellow and will use the $100,000 grant to pursue a Doctor of Education degree in leadership   and enhance his network to better help immigrants and refugees become well-educated, prosperous members of their new community.

Post written by guest blogger Carrie Thiele

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Circle of Support Opens Doors to Employment for Refugee Women

A Women’s Empowerment Group at Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest in Tucson (LSS-SW) brings refugee participants, including single moms, together for classes on children’s safety, nutrition, and sewing. LSS-SW has found that the social connections made through these classes are a positive factor on participants’ employment readiness, combined with support from case management, Intensive Case Management, and employment services programs.

“These women inspire each other,” says Jeanine Balezi, LSS-SW Intensive Case Manager. She tells how women see their friends start working, and then they want to find a job, too.

Photo of a 12-week Kith and Kin class offered by LSS-SW in partnership with the Association of Supportive Child Care. Classes focus on in-home childcare safety and early-childhood development games and activities.

One example is an LSS-SW client with five children who spoke very limited English when she arrived. She was terrified to start working and was upset when Jeanine told her to take responsibility for getting her children to daycare as a first step to independence. When she started attending the women’s group, the client showed interest in getting a job for the first time.

“She said she wasn’t depressed anymore,” tells Jeanine. “She had gained another family.”

The client was placed in a job at a hotel, but started having back pain after some time working. One of her friends from the women’s support group helped her apply for a different job at a school, where the work was physically less demanding. She started working there, obtained her driver’s license, and bought a car—now she’s independent.

The Women’s Empowerment Group sessions are conducted in partnership with a local university and are led by qualified volunteers. Babysitting is also provided, and the last class had 24 women in attendance. Jeanine stays in close touch with the employment team at her agency to coordinate services and let them know when participants express interest in finding a job.

Supporting single parents as they prepare for employment is a team effort. What supportive services does your agency offer? Let us know at information@higheradvantage.org.

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New Year, New Focus

As the refugee resettlement world starts a new fiscal year, you may be wondering how to refocus some of your energy, particularly if you are seeing a smaller case load. The Refugee Employment Services (RES) team at the YMCA International Services Center in Houston, TX, has started refining their services and refocusing goals for the upcoming year after experiencing a significant decline in the number of clients. Joanne Pantaleon Torres, Employment Services Director, shares several ways they are customizing and strengthening their employment services and community partnerships, including:  

  1. Providing higher-quality job placements. Joanne’s team is applying more time and energy to find individual solutions to client barriers. Fewer clients mean employment case managers spend more time getting to know each client, understanding their unique situation and goals, and making better job matches.

YMCA International Services Refugee Employment Services Team

The YMCA International Services Center is also implementing a more assertive approach to employer prospecting. Engaging a front desk volunteer who doesn’t mind making cold calls to new businesses is resulting in higher-paying job leads. Employment specialists are researching online job openings with current employers to find positions that require additional skills, pay better, or have more advancement opportunities that go beyond “typical” placements.

  1. Rethinking vocational training. In FY2016, YMCA International Services Center moved the Vocational Training Program in-house by hiring a full-time Vocational Training Liaison who screens potential training participants, reviews their background experience, and makes recommendations for trainings. Previously, the RES team referred clients to a refugee services office at partnering organization Houston Community College (HCC). HCC continues to be a preferred vocational training partner for YMCA, and together they are working on solutions to provide continued learning opportunities that accommodate clients’ work schedules. For example, they recently piloted bilingual HVAC and welding classes on the weekends for Spanish-speaking clients. It’s been successful so far—there was a 100% successful completion rate among their first weekend welding cohort!

 

  1. Connecting with more Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL) opportunities. Referring clients to a new Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL) program has been a highlight of the past year, and the RES team is looking for ways to expand these resources. The Bilingual Education Institute, a network partner of the YMCA, is offering VESL classes onsite at two hotels where several YMCA clients work. The RES team is also exploring a new partnership with Houston Center for Literacy’s “English at Work” program in upcoming months to incorporate into services offered to employed clients. YMCA International Services has observed an increased commitment from clients in these classes vs. traditional ESL classes. In addition being conveniently located and scheduled, Joanne points out that, “participants are more likely to stay in the class and learn when it’s connected to their job.”

What are your team’s priorities for the coming year? We’d love to hear your thoughts at information@higheradvantage.org.

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Donated Bikes Pave the Way to Jobs in Tucson

Cars, bikes and buses – oh my! Transportation is a common challenge for newly-arrived refugees, but you might find some inspiration from Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest in Tucson (LSS-SW) and their strategy for using donated bikes to help clients get to work.

LSS-SW provides 1-2 bicycles per client household with employable adults, thanks to partnerships with Wheels for Kids and local Boy Scout drives. Both partnering organizations have provided donated, refurbished adult and child bikes.

“We’ve seen clients who are able to work that might not have otherwise been able to.” Since several of Tucson’s bus lines have limited hours of operation, “many of our clients working at hotels have to find another way to get home,” says Kyle Dignoti, LSS-SW Resource and Pre-arrival Coordinator. “Having the opportunity to use a bike has really impacted their mobility.”

Bikes are never given to clients without appropriate safety equipment, including a helmet, rope lock, and brake lights. Safety information is reviewed one-on- one with each recipient, and bicycle safety classes are available through Pima County.

Once a client has a bike, maintenance can be a challenge, but BICAS (Bicycle Inter Community Art and Salvage) in Tucson helps overcome that hurdle by training clients how to fix their bicycles. Clients are able to keep their bikes running and know how to perform basic fixes on their own.

If you have a car or bike donation program in place, we’d love to hear about at it at information@higheradvantage.org. Haven’t found a community partner to help develop these resources yet? Start by googling terms like “donated bikes” or “bike classes” and see who is in your area – you might be surprised how easy it is to find great local partners!

 

 

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Higher is Hiring

Are you someone who is extremely passionate about refugee employment? Higher is seeking to fill its Network Engagement Specialist (NES) position. The position is ORR funded through the Higher technical assistance grant.

The NES will develop high quality technical assistance materials on promising practices in refugee employment to be disseminated through multiple channels. This position is a critical role in supporting and fully engaging the nationwide network of resettlement agencies, other refugee serving organizations, and employers.  This includes working on strategies for the initial refugee employment and on longer term economic integration.  The NES will have the opportunity to develop Innovative strategies for refugee employment and self- sufficiency.

The NES will be responsible for all areas of online engagement including the metrics for each platform. The candidate must be strong writer. The position assists the Program Manager of Higher in developing technical assistance priorities based on information gathered during in-person trainings, webinars, TA requests, and other interactions with the Higher network.

To read the full job description and apply please click here. Please share this link with your network.

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Webinar Announcement from DOL: Using Storytelling to Share Your Program Successes

Registration for this event is limited and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis; please register today.

Higher Network, let the great work you are doing in employment speak for itself through the art of storytelling. 

Tell a person a fact, they may remember it for a day or two.  Tell them a memorable story, they are likely to remember it for a lifetime.
Whether you are recruiting participants, engaging employers, or seeking financial support for your project, story-telling is one of the most powerful tools you can use to achieve your objectives.

This webinar will provide you with practical tips and guidance for telling a story that will evoke emotion, get your message across, and win support for your efforts.

You will learn how to:

  • Help your audience visualize your story.
  • Draw people into your story through the absence of information.
  • Get your audience to sit up and take notice.
  • Get your message across in a way that “sticks.”

If your seeking to improve the stories you tell your customers and the public, please join us for this informative webinar.

Presenter(s):

John Rakis, REO Technical Assistance Coach, Coffey Consulting LLC

Lenora Thompson, REO Technical Assistance Coach, Coffey Consulting LLC

Moderator(s):

Richard Morris, Program Analyst, U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

 

When: Thursday, October 05, 2017

Time: 2:00 PM-3:30 PM ET

Register here to attend

Please note that to register, participants will have to create a DOL account, if they don’t already have one.

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Farewell post from Daniel Wilkinson

Dear Higher Network,

On August 21st I transitioned out of Higher and into a new role at LIRS, in which I’ll be managing a corporate partnership focused on creating sustainable career opportunities for refugees.

It has been a fantastic 2 years with Higher, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to support you in the critically important work that you do in helping refugees become self-sufficient and pursue their dreams.

While I am excited for my new role and the new opportunities that it will give me to support the career paths and community integration of refugees, I will miss being part of Higher, and wanted leave you with a few parting thoughts:

-Never underestimate the value of connecting and collaborating with your peers. We hear again and again from attendees at our events that while the training we provide is extremely helpful, the most valuable thing people get out of being connected to Higher is the opportunity to connect with peers. This has been true for me too! The opportunity to get to know many of you has added a lot of depth to my expertise in refugee employment. Thank you!

-Don’t let short-term discouragements get you down. It’s easy to be discouraged in the work that we do and wonder if we are really making a difference. Keep in mind though that refugee employment is like gardening- if you keep doing the right things, the garden will eventually grow. So keep showing up, keep providing excellent services for your clients, and I promise you that the harvest will come. It won’t be long before you have some amazing success stories to tell (on the Higher blog of course)!

-There are ALWAYS opportunities! Our work can be a roller-coaster. Funding levels, arrival numbers, refugee populations and the economy will always be changing. I started my career in refugee employment in 2010 during the Great Recession but chose to ignore the bad news on TV and believe that America is in fact “the land of opportunity.” This positive attitude and a commitment to creativity in my approach to finding opportunities for myself and my clients has always served me well. There will always be challenges to overcome. The good news is that we are experts in overcoming challenges. That’s what we help our clients do every day!

So keep your head up, keep that smile on, and keep those business cards in your pocket! The best is yet to come. I believe that!

On a final note, if you have a passion for refugee work, employment services experience, and writing/tech skills, I would really encourage you to apply for my former position. You can find the job description for the Network Engagement Specialist position here.

Thanks again for a great 2 years!

All the best,

Daniel Wilkinson

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Frontline Perspective: Former Refugees Now Working in Refugee Employment Share Their Advice

Many of our colleagues in refugee employment are former refugees. These staff members bring with them valuable first-hand knowledge of the refugee experience, critical language skills, and a unique perspective that benefits us all.

It’s important to acknowledge, however, the personal challenges and cultural adjustment that these staff members have successfully navigated (or are currently navigating) in order to be effective in their roles.

Speaking about his own experience getting started in refugee resettlement and employment services in 2011, former Higher Peer Advisor Subash Acharya says:

 “[As a Job Developer coming from a different cultural background] I found it challenging to build rapport with employers in the beginning…Many did not feel comfortable with me because they had never worked with someone like me in the past.”

Over time Subash developed strategies for overcoming these challenges, and  eventually was promoted to Employment Services Coordinator at Ascentria Care Alliance in Concord, NH. In this role he managed a successful refugee employment program from 2015-2017, before transitioning out of refugee services in order to pursue the next steps in his own professional journey.

We wondered what the experience of other former refugees now working in refugee employment has been like, so during a breakout session at Higher’s 3rd Annual Refugee Employment Workshop, we asked these individuals to answer 3 questions:

  1. What was your biggest challenge when you began working in refugee employment?
  2. What advice do you have for new refugee employment staff coming from a refugee background?
  3. How can management at resettlement agencies support staff coming from a refugee background?

Here is what they had to say:

Biggest Challenges of refugee employment staff from a refugee background (past and present challenges)

  • Adapting to a new culture while trying to help others (many from cultures different from mine) adapt at the same time can be difficult.
  • Clients from my culture often have higher expectations of me and sometimes expect me to show them favoritism.
  • Coworkers, clients and employers sometimes have had difficulty understanding my accent.
  • Coming from a different culture, early on I had some difficulty building relationships with American employers.

Advice for refugee employment staff from a refugee background

  • Be open-minded and not too judgmental towards your coworkers and clients.
  • Stop…think about when you first arrived. Then act. Your perspective as a former refugee will help you.
  • Be flexible, and don’t take things personally.
  • Work hard on your own cultural adaptation so that you can set an example for clients.

Advice for management about hiring and working with staff from a refugee background

  • Provide additional cultural orientation and be patient as these staff members continue to adapt to American culture.
  • Don’t just hire for language ability; hire former refugees who have some experience with American culture as well as the professional skills necessary for the job.
  • Just like clients, former refugees now working in refugee employment services are adjusting to general American culture as well as American workplace culture. Set these team members up for success by clearly communicating professional expectations and office etiquette.
  • Respect the unique perspective of the former refugees on your team; show an interest in their culture and demonstrate a willingness to learn from them.

We hope that sharing the perspective of our colleagues coming from a refugee background will be a reminder of their vital contributions and provide an opportunity for coworkers and supervisors to think through how they can best support and learn from these staff members.

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