Seasonal Bell Ringer Jobs Build Understanding of Customer Service and US Culture of Giving
Guest Blog Contribution from Higher Peer Expert, Lorel Donaghey, Caritas of Austin
Now is the time that Salvation Army missions across the country begin to take applications for season bell ringer positions, which are full time from Thanksgiving weekend until December 24. In Austin, we placed 6 refugees as bell ringers last year and hope to place more this year. The Salvation Army liked the chance to show people that giving is not just a Christian tradition and were happy to demonstrate greater cultural diversity. For our clients, it offered a resume builder, $8/hour and a great learning experience. Everyone who grew up in the US knows about Salvation Army Bell Ringers, but the concept is completely foreign to refugees.
Clients needed to be able to say basic greetings in English, keep close track of their kettle at all times, be reliable and be willing to engage people to encourage them to give. Although they moved to different sites frequently, everyone left and returned to a central site and transportation was provided. The purpose was to safeguard collections, but it made it much easier for our clients, as well. We provided quite a lot of interpretation during training and during the first week or so of work and on-going to help things work well. It was really worth it. One of our clients won the top collections award one week and all of them got positive feedback from the store managers where they were stationed. You can read more about the experience in the attached article that we placed in local news media last year.
Refugees Ring in the Holiday Spirit
December 28, 2011
Hundreds of documented refugees come to Caritas of Austin each year fleeing religious and political persecution. For many, the journey to a new life in the United States is the first time leaving the small villages and rural environments where they lived. Caritas helps refugees acclimate to their new home, learn new skills and find employment.
For 10 documented refugees who found employment as bell ringers for the Salvation Army, this year marked their first holiday season in the United States.
The bell ringers are a common holiday tradition seen each year positioned in front of stores and along streets we pass daily. The custom of placing loose change into a bright red kettle is second nature for many. However, for refugees who have never experienced Christmas in the United States, this concept is brand new.
The opportunity to work as bell ringers would provide much needed employment to support their families while learning some of our holiday traditions.
Before beginning their jobs at local bell ringing stations, Caritas case managers and staff from Salvation Army spent time training refugees. They learned the basic principles of the position, including how to say, “welcome,” “thank you,” and “Merry Christmas.”
Aden, a refugee from Somalia, speaks very little English and had no previous exposure to western work and culture. Before coming to the United States, he had only been on a bus twice and was never far from his village.
Aden was stationed at Macy’s at Barton Creek Mall. It was a challenge to help him navigate the store and even find a restroom. But he did it. When his case manager visited him at work, Aden grinned, shook his kettle and said in an amazed voice, “Money is coming. Bell is ringing and they are giving!”
Basra, another refugee from Somalia, arrived for her first day and when Salvation Army Lt. Frankie Zuniga came to check on her, she was dancing, ringing the bell and getting people engaged to donate. Zuniga was amazed as she helped reassure him that Caritas clients can do the job and do it successfully!
Working as bell ringers has helped Caritas clients learn how to engage customers and follow basic work expectations. After only two days of work, they were all clearly feeling more confident about their English and ability to do a valuable job. They have also learned about charitable giving and nonprofit traditions. They were skeptical at first that people would really give, but now they are seeing how it works.
It takes a team of volunteers, interns, staff and translators to help them learn and keep the jobs. The Salvation Army staff has also been very supportive. After one day, they knew that refugees could contribute as valued employees. As the holidays come to an end, the refugees can apply their valuable experience to future positions.