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.

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.

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!

 

 

Identifying Job-Getting Personal Qualities

Refugees looking for their first job in America often underestimate the value of informing potential employers about personal character qualities that bolster their employability.  The following exercise helps job search clients identify their own employment-worthy character traits and develop greater confidence in their own ability to get a job in the United States.

Introduction:  In order to ‘sell’ oneself in the job market, it is necessary to know exactly what it is that one has to offer.  In this exercise, participants will identify their own positive personality traits valued by American employers.

Time: 5 – 10 minutes

Materials: Copy of “My Personal Qualities” (below) for each participant.

Procedure:

  • Distribute a copy of the handout to each job search client. It may be helpful to provide a bi-lingual version to help clients learn the meanings of the English terms.
  • Ask participants to check off all the personality traits that they possess.
  • Once they are done, ask them to identify the top 5 traits that they possess and that relate to the job they hope to do (e.g. if one hopes to be a truck driver, then “dependable” may be a more important personal quality than “cheerful”).  Ask clients to think of a time when they successfully used each of these 5 traits (on the job or otherwise), and to be prepared to talk about it.
  • Ask participants which 5 personality traits they think most employers most look for when hiring a new employee. There is no one right answer to this question, but for the following are qualities that many employers look for when considering to hire someone:  positive attitude, punctual, works well with others, self-starter, adaptable, and self-managed learner.

For a variation on this discussion ask participants which top qualities they would look for in an employee if they were the business owner.

My Personal Qualities

Put a check beside the words that are true regarding you…

___  Well-organized                                         ___   Hard-working

___  Ambitious                                                   ___  Active

___  Flexible                                                      ___  Energetic

___  Cooperative                                               ___  Responsible

___  Punctual                                                     ___  Neat

___  Alert                                                            ___  Friendly

___  Motivated                                                   ___  Polite

___  Honest                                                        ___  Independent

___  Efficient                                                     ___   Relaxed

___  Confident                                                   ___  Intelligent

___  Dependable                                              ___  Competent

___  Knowledgeable                                        ___  Thorough

___  Adaptable                                                   __  Curious

___  Disciplined                                                ___  Helpful

___  Mature                                                        ___ Caring

___  Creative                                                    ___  Open-minded

___  Funny                                                        ___  Patient

___  Careful                                                      ___  Respectful

___  Reliable                                                     ___  Willing to learn

___  Positive Attitude                                       ___  Works well with others

___  Self-starter                                                ___  Self-managed learner

Now, list your 5 top personality strengths and think of an example of a time when you successfully used each one.

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Do you have any creative games you use in Job Readiness class? If yes, please write to us at information@higheradvantage.org

This post was written by guest blogger Daryl Morrissey, Cultural Orientation Coordinator at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

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.

Targeted Volunteer Recruitment- for Employment Programs

Guest blog post by Laura Griffin, Coordinator for Volunteerism and Mentoring at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

Phones ringing constantly? Volunteer applications piling up?

Many offices have seen a massive increase in the number of people reaching out to volunteer.

But is your agency able to find the right volunteers that actually help employment programs? Depending on the needs of your employment team, the right volunteer might mean someone who is available during office hours or people with specific skills and experience that can mentor higher skilled refugees. In order to find the best possible volunteers to support your employment program, you may want to consider targeted volunteer recruitment.

It might sound counter-intuitive, but strategically narrowing your recruitment effort to a small audience of potential volunteers may be more effective than broader outreach. In addition to benefiting your program, people are more likely to say “yes” when asked to volunteer if your request is personalized and specific. If you are recruiting volunteers and trying to leverage their skills strategically you need to learn enough about each applicant to know what motivates them to volunteer, and what makes them especially qualified for the job.

To get started on your targeted recruitment campaign, answer these 4 questions:

 

Question Example 1: Career Mentors Example 2: Teacher
1) What do you need? Civil engineer employment mentor Teacher for 10 AM Job Development Class
2) Who could provide this? Current or retired civil engineers Retired teachers, education grad students, current teachers off during the summer
3) How can we communicate with them? Ask staff & current volunteers if they know any civil engineers they could recruit. Post on job recruitment sites like Indeed.com. Call engineering companies. Call local school administers (Hint: End of the school year is best, right before summer break). Reach out to staff/volunteer personal contacts. Call local grad schools.
4) What would motivate these people to volunteer? Personal experience with career mentors in their own life. A desire to see the results of mentoring in refugee lives. Learning more about the culture of the students they teach, adding cross-cultural skills for their resume

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re on your way to recruiting the right volunteer for the job. Read 8 Ways Volunteers Can Support Refugee Employment for more ideas on volunteer roles.

Have any great experiences to share? Email information@higheradvantage.org.

Upwardly Global Now Offers Refugee-specific Services

You may already be familiar with Upwardly Global (UpGlo). Since its founding in 2000, UpGlo has offered free job search training and services, online and in person, to help skilled immigrants and refugees rebuild professional careers in the U.S.  One thing that you may not be aware of, however, is that they now offer refugee-specific services to eligible job seekers nationwide.

The program includes UpGlo’s standard job search training and services as well as an Online Learning Portal that houses free training courses, materials, and community forums. For example, the online community platform, known as WeGlo, provides guides and resources related to refugee legal rights, social and welfare benefits and information regarding naturalization, etc.

UpGlo’s refugee-specific services also include free access to Coursera online college courses, and for clients in the San Francisco Bay area, access to internship opportunities at Tetra Tech DPK.

Additionally, refugee clients are connected with volunteer mentors from various industries through informational and networking events. UpGlo provides refugee-specific training to volunteer mentors, equipping them to assist refugees with interview preparation, job search, and building a professional network in the U.S.

To learn more about UpGlo’s refugee-specific services, click here.

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.

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: The SIV story on This American Life podcast

This Friday we hope you will listen to a podcast with powerful stories of Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) recipients. This American Life is my favorite podcast. The amazing stories of real people always help take my mind off the daily grind. For employment staff who work hard to find better job for those SIVs who are highly educated and often speak English quite well I hope you will enjoy this podcast.

This American Life is an American weekly hour-long radio program produced by WBEZ Chicago Public Radio and hosted by Ira Glass. It is broadcast on numerous public radio stations in the United States and is also available as a free weekly podcast. Primarily a journalistic non-fiction program, it has also features essays, memoirs, field recordings, and short fiction.

On January 6, 2017 This American Life aired episode 607: “Didn’t We Solve this One?” This episode masterfully captures the journey of Iraqis who took on the harrowing task of helping US forces juxtaposed against the struggle in Congress to create the SIV program. The SIV program brings Iraqis to the US who served the US forces and now their lives are targeted because of the work they did for the US.

For more information on the SIV program read this post: Afghan and Iraqi SIV Programs

Access the podcast here