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.

Today is World Refugee Day

Today, June 20th, is World Refugee Day.

On this day we commemorate the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees. This year, World Refugee Day also marks a key moment for the public to show support for families forced to flee.

Because of your work in refugee resettlement, those few refugees that make a home in the United States have the opportunity to work and learn the skills necessary to make positive contributions in their new communities.

 

Identity Theft

Attention refugee employment staff! There have recently been incidents regarding identify theft and refugees. Individuals from within and outside of the refugee community have convinced refugees to provide their social security number (SSN) and have used this information to file fraudulent tax claims.

Please let all your clients know that they should protect their social security number, alien number, and any other personal identifying information (PII). If a client reports that they suspect their identity has been stolen, please assist them in filing a report at www.IdentityTheft.gov.

Include this topic in your financial literacy/job readiness curriculum:  Along with teaching clients about financial literacy and taxes, protecting PII and preventing identify theft are topics that can be easily covered in class. Here is a sample of what could be covered in a lesson:

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft happens when someone uses your social security number or other personal information to open new accounts, make purchases, or get a tax refund. You might get a notice from the IRS or find unfamiliar accounts on your credit report. You might notice strange withdrawals from your bank account, get bills that aren’t yours, or get calls about debts that you don’t owe.

How to Prevent Identify Theft

Secure your financial documents and records in a safe place at home and lock your wallet or purse in a safe place at work. Keep your personal information secure from roommates or apartment maintenance staff that comes into your home.

Limit what you carry. When you go out, take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need. Leave your social security card at home. Make a copy and black out all but the last four digits on the copy. Carry the copy with you.

Protecting Your Social Security Number (SSN) and other personal identifying information (PII)

Keep a close hold on your social security number and other PII.  Ask questions before deciding to share any information. Ask if you can use a different kind of identification. If someone asks you to share your SSN or your child’s SSN, ask them why they need it and how it will be used? The decision to share your personal information is your own.

What to Do if You Think You are a Victim of Identify Theft

If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, act quickly. Here are 5 steps you can take to limit the damage:

  1. Call the companies where you know fraud occurred.
  2. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and get copies of your report (for instructions on how to do so click here).
  3. Report identity theft to the
  4. File a report with your local police department.
  5. Most importantly, you should contact your case manager if you need help or clarification.

Please visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov for more resources.

Has identity theft or tax fraud every happened to a client of yours? If yes, please write us at information@higheradvantage.org to share your experience and how you helped your client resolve the issue.

Friday Feature: “I am a migrant” Stories from Around the World

This Friday, Higher found a wonderful online site that highlights the power of the human story at iamamigrant.org. This site allows people to post their own story of migration. Some of those stories were people forced from their homeland and some were in search of a better life. This organization is able to put a face to word and challenge the negative connotation. The site celebrate migrants. The site is available in multiple languages and has thousands of stories from all over. I hope you visit this site and add your own story if you are a former refugee. I shared this site with some of the clients I worked with in hopes they will add their stories.

This is Hamza, he was forced to flee Syria at the age of 10 and made his way with his family to Greece. Read his story and the story of others at iamamigrant.org

7 Tips if You’re New To Job Development

If you’re new to refugee job development, welcome to what is sure to be one of the most challenging and rewarding chapters of your career!

Maybe you’re fresh out of college or perhaps you’re a career changer looking for more meaningful work. You are likely very excited about your new position but you’ve probably also had a few moments of wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into.

You have a long and growing list of clients that you need to place and many of them have significant barriers to employment. You’re beginning to think that your title should be Miracle Worker instead of Job Developer. Well guess what? We’ve all been there!

Here are 7 tips to get you through your first few crazy months as a Job Developer:

1. Breathe! What you are experiencing is normal. The work that we do is not easy, but it is rewarding! Murphy’s Law (“whatever can go wrong, will go wrong”) will summarize many of your days as a Job Developer, but there will also be many days where you will celebrate amazing successes with clients and coworkers.

2. Realize that there is a seasonal nature to the work that we do. Ask your coworkers or a supervisor to help you know what to expect at different times in the year. There are times in the year that will be slow and times that will be insane, both in terms of employer hiring and refugee arrivals. October and November will be crazier because of the recent bulge in refugee arrivals and also because employers do a lot of hiring in the fall. December and January are typically slow months in terms of employer hiring.

3. Get a mentor. Mentors are good for your clients, and they are good for you. Find a coworker who is more experienced and ask if they can share what has worked for them, and how they’ve dealt with the challenges of the job. Find an opportunity to “shadow” them as they do employer outreach. After watching them make their pitch to a few employers, try taking the lead on the next few employer visits, and ask your mentor for feedback.

4. Get out of the office! After going out to do employer outreach with your mentor once or twice, get out there and do it yourself. It will be scary. You’ll stumble over your words. You’ll get strange stares and doors slammed in your face. But you’ll get better. Success will come through practice and through getting out there and building relationships with employers. These relationships will not happen by looking at craigslist or doing online job applications; they will happen by you getting out there and “pounding the pavement.”

5. Focus on the Needs of Employers. While there is a humanitarian aspect to the work that we do, focusing on the difficult circumstances of our clients when we speak to employers is not likely to lead to long term partnerships. Employers become partners when they see that you understand the needs and challenges of their business, and can offer them consistent and effective solutions (i.e. motivated, reliable and dependable employees). Over time they may become passionate about helping refugees, but your job is to help them take the first step by convincing them that hiring a refugee is good for their business.

6. Have balanced expectations of your clients. Never underestimate your clients. Don’t be too pessimistic. Refugees are survivors and some of the most resilient people on the planet. You will feel like it’s impossible for some of your clients to get and keep jobs. Many of your clients will prove you wrong. On the other hand, be careful about being overly-optimistic about your clients with higher levels of English and literacy. Starting over in a new culture is a huge challenge for all refugees. Higher skilled clients have their own share of challenges, whether those be unrealistic expectations, trauma, or cultural adjustment issues. Regardless of skill level, the key is to identify barriers to employment early and work with your clients to develop an employment strategy that helps them overcome these challenges.

7. Sign up for Higher’s Online Learning Institute. Our eLearning modules will get you up to speed on best practices in the field ranging from conducting employability assessments, to communicating with employers, to writing effective case notes. Learn more about Higher’s Online Learning Institute here.

 

Friday Feature: Documentary following Refugees Fleeing to Europe

 This Friday, take some time to watch this film. The film could be helpful in presenting material to community stakeholders who know little about the modern day plight of refugees. On December 27, 2016 PBS’s Frontline premiered Exodus. Exodus is a Keo Films production for WGBH/FRONTLINE and BBC. The director is James Bluemel.

“I am a refugee, I am just like you, I have a family, I have dreams, I’ve got hopes…” says Ahmad one of the 5 stories Featured in Exodus. “I just want a peaceful life away from violence.”

A documentary film featuring first-hand stories of refugees and migrants as they make dangerous journeys across 26 countries seeking safety and a better life. Some of the stories are captured by the refugees themselves on their smartphones tracking their trek via water or van to Europe. These people are fleeing from war in search of peace but along their journey they face smugglers, human traffickers and many do not survive. For those that make it to Europe, many are shut out or encamped.

Much of the dialogue across the US and the world this past year has been ceaselessly negative towards refugees. In addition to your words, perhaps this film can help to combat the stigma in today’s contentious political climate. “It’s important to unmask and humanize, and remind people that this is a human tragedy.”-Director James Bluemel.

Access the film here.

 

 

Job Opening at Catholic Charities in Fredericksburg, VA

Do you have refugee resettlement experience and are looking to take the next step in your refugee employment career? Laurel Collins at Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington asked Higher to share this job description with our amazing network. If you have experience and want to be the next Program Manager, Fredericksburg Migration and Refugee Services please consider applying. 

 

To see the full job description and to apply for this position, click here!

Happy Holidays from Higher

Photo Credit The Cramer Insititute

Photo Credit The Cramer Institute

These past few months have been incredibly busy for everyone in resettlement across the country. We hope you all employment staff can take some time just to relax because you have definitely earned it. Employment is no easy job and the skill-set that each one of you has is so vital to the resettlement of refugees. Each of your clients benefit when you work together to place them in jobs.

Before you go, please check in with both employers and clients before you take vacation because no one wants to come back to a crisis. Most importantly, please take care of yourselves so you can get back to your awesome and life changing work in New Year.

If we at Higher can give your more information that you need in order to succeed in your job or if you need someone to talk through a tough situation please do not hesitate to reach out, we are always available information@higheradvantage.org.

Stay safe and take care.

 

 

Higher Staff Transition

To all our wonderful partners. My time with Higher is coming to an end. In fact, today is my last day in the office. I’m leaving to focus on school and some creative projects I’ve always wanted to pursue. The easiest way to express how I feel is to thank you all for helping make my time with Higher a fulfilling and life-changing role – Thank You!  

Please keep in touch! 

Here are five of the most important things I’ve learned over the past three years: 

1. The Upside to Being Outside of my Comfort Zone

I truly love to learn, and I have to admit, I’ve learned the most when I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone to do my job.  Whether standing behind an exhibition booth table or presenting in front of a room full of service providers, the situations that have caused me the most anxiety are, by far, my most cherished memories with Higher. I encourage each of you to do something that challenges you to learn something about yourself in the New Year. 

2. Practice Makes Perfect

When I think about the presentations, webinars and trainings I’ve done with Higher, the ones that I’m the most proud of are the ones that I’ve taken the time to practice. Over and over and over again. Coming into this role with Higher, I didn’t realize how much time goes into designing, developing and conducting an effective presentation.  Many of you do it every day and I’m inspired by your abilities!

3. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

When I first started with Higher, I thought that the fact that I lacked frontline experience working with refugees was something to be ashamed of.  As I started to get to know the network, it became clear that I was wrong – when I admitted that I needed help to understand the world of refugee employment, every person I talked to was SO HELPFUL. I’ve tried really hard to mirror the incredible generosity and kindness I’ve received from the network, but it’s difficult to imagine I’ve come close. You guys are amazing.

4. The Importance of Community

The timing couldn’t have been worse for me personally, but I’m so glad that I made time to attend the Welcoming Institute in August of 2015. Throughout the two-day event, Welcoming America somehow managed to change the way I think about communities, and more surprisingly, the role I wanted to play in my own local community. To summarize, I went from not really caring on day one to finding myself on Baltimore’s World Refugee Day planning committee before I even knew what was happening. Thanks, Welcoming America – I needed that!

5. A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way

Giving a compliment is easy, free, and motivational, but I wonder, can you remember the last time someone told you that you were doing a good job? Please, I’m not looking for a compliment – really. What I am hoping is that you pass on some kind words today – maybe to a colleague or maybe to a client – no matter what, you’ll make more of an impact than you will ever know. Here are a few easy phrases to get you started: “Keep up the good work!” “Great job!” “Thank You!”     

Making the Match in December: Spotlight on YMCA International Services Houston, TX

December is the perfect time of year for agencies to focus on raising the match for Matching Grant. With the country in a giving mood most agencies are able to raise 25% to 65% of their fiscal year match between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Now that the match for MG can be raised 100% through in-kind donations your agency has a ton of options for what to ask for from donors or how to raise the match. When calculating the match please remember that not all gifts or volunteer hours will count toward MG, follow the ORR guidelines on what can be included as match and be sure to keep a precise record.

YMCA International Services of Houston recently shared a creative strategy their office uses during the holiday season to raise the match and help refugee families. Here is what Joe Saceric, ymcaDirector of Community Relations wrote about this program:

Every year many refugee families will be celebrating their first holiday season in their new homes. To provide them with comfort, and to welcome them YMCA International Services of Houston hosts an annual Adopt-A-Family program.  In December families and community groups “adopt” families for the holidays, purchasing items on their wish list which they fill out with a staff person or a volunteer mentor. For many this is an opportunity to wish for items they otherwise will continue to live without like a TV, or bike, or even a computer that could benefit everyone.

YMCA International Services of Houston's Adopt-A-Family program

YMCA International Services of Houston’s Adopt-A-Family program

One of the most unique aspects of this program is that those adopting have the opportunity (only if they wish) to deliver the gifts to the homes of the refugee family they adopted. During these visits the families will encourage their visitors to stay and talk, they will often serve treats, and for some this has been the beginning of a new friendship. This is an extraordinary way for Houstonians and their new neighbors to meet each other and celebrate their cultures during the holiday season. 

Along with the families and groups many other YMCA centers throughout Houston also partake in the festivities, many of these adopters are local youth and teen!  Through the generosity of so many last year close to fifty families were adopted. Adopt-A-Family continues to grow every year. This year over fifty families have already been adopted, and there is still time for a few more.

If you agency would like assistance or ideas for raising the match, or if you have a MG success story you would like to share; please do not hesitate to contact us here at Higher: information@higheradvantage.org