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 


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.



CLINIC Survey: Is Your Program Serving More Haitians?

Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), needs information on newly arrived Haitians. Has your office seen the arrival of Haitians with Temporary Protected Status (TPS)? CLINIC is ORR’s TA provider on immigration and legal rights for refugees. 

CLINIC plans to offer a webinar in late January or early February that will focus on how to best serve recently arrived Haitians who qualify for TPS. CLINIC has created a brief survey that will inform the content of this webinar.

Click here to take the survey before it closes on Friday, January 13th.

Happy New Year!!

Wishing you a happy and healthy New Year!

This year has been very challenging and stressful but as always employment staff remained resilient and rose to the challenge. We thank you for your service to you refugee and immigrant clients.If you need any employment assistance or just want to reach out, Higher is always here to support. Email predicted the following top 5 careers by 2017. Do you agree?

Workforce Collaboration Case Study: New Collaborative in Bowling Green, KY Helps Fill Key Manufacturing Positions

Photo: Mast for Chevrolet

Bowling Green, KY may be a smaller city, but it has developed a reputation for being a great place to do business, coming in at #39 this year on Forbes Magazine’s Top 200 “Best Small Places for Business and Careers” list .

Bowling Green’s high income and job growth combined with a low cost of doing business has made it a popular destination for many major companies including Fruit of the Loom, Camping World, Magna International, Holley Performance Products, Russell Brands, and General Motors (The Bowling Green Assembly Plant has been the source of all Chevrolet Corvettes built since 1981).

During the past decade, Bowling Green’s economy weathered the recession and rebounded surprisingly well with a 5% increase in manufacturing employment, a 5% increase in professional and business services, and a 6% increase in leisure and hospitality since 2005. With all of this growth however, some local employers, especially those in manufacturing, have struggled to find enough workers.

Higher Peer Advisor Kelly Rice is the Employment Services Manager at the International Center of Kentucky in Bowling Green and recently told us about a new collaborative effort called Team Workforce that is working to solve the worker shortage issue that employers are facing.

Here is an excerpt from our interview with Kelly:

Can you tell us about Team Workforce? What is it and who is involved?

Team Workforce is a local team of partners from different agencies including mainstream workforce development, non-profits, and educational institutions. At this point the collaborative includes our local Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Career Center, Goodwill Industries Job Junction, Southern Kentucky Technical College, Western Kentucky University, Department for Community Based Services and the Kentucky Works Program. Our goal is to eliminate the unemployment rate for our local counties and bridge the gap between motivated workers and employers with positions that they are struggling to fill. Our group meets on a bi-weekly basis to discuss current job openings, strategies for helping our clients access these openings, and whether or not we might have good candidates for these positions.

What have been some of the early accomplishments of the collaborative? 

So far we’ve worked a lot with the manufacturing industry and some of our early accomplishments have been the development of a production certificate program and a manufacturing skills program that helps gives clients the skills they need to access better employment opportunities. We’ve also been able to reach out to our city officials and work with them to alleviate some of the transportation barriers job seekers face by changing some bus routes to provide greater access to local industrial parks.

How has your involvement in the Team Workforce collaborative benefited refugees in Bowling Green? Have the other collaborative members and the local employers you are targeting been receptive to working with your clients? 

Our clients have definitely benefited from this collaboration. Of course any collaboration has its challenges. It’s a learning process and we are all still learning how to best accommodate each other’s needs. As anyone who works with refugees knows, issues such as language, transportation, and childcare needs always present challenges and sometimes cause employers or mainstream workforce development programs to be hesitant to work with our clients. We’ve continued to educate our partners and local employers about our clients strong work ethic and skills and have provided support when necessary, such as coordinating interpretation.

Job Preparation Class at ICKY/

Our employment program has benefited because we are more aware of local employment and training opportunities than we were before and they are more aware of our programs.

Our network has expanded and this has created more training and job opportunities for our clients, which is encouraging.

We have also worked with the local career center to design a weekly basic computer skills training class for clients without much experience using computers. Additionally, we have seen an increase in clients enrolled in the GED program at Southern Kentucky Technical College, which has also opened up pathways to other vocational training programs offered by the school.

Many thanks to Kelly Rice for sharing this collaboration case study! To check out past collaboration case studies, click here.

We’d love to hear your collaboration success story. Please email us at

Kelly RiceKelly Rice has a B.S in Finance from Virginia Tech and an HR certificate from Western Kentucky University.  She worked at Wells Fargo for 8 years and joined the International Center of Kentucky in Bowling Green as Employment Program Manager in May 2013.


Note: Information and statistics about Bowling Green’s economy were obtained at,_Kentucky#Economy.

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

Stay safe and take care.



10 Tips for Newly Hired Employment Managers

Congratulations! After all the long and hard hours you’ve worked building innovative and successful employment programs, you are now a manager. This new role is important and well-deserved but comes with a whole new set of goals and demands. New managers need just as much guidance in their role so here are a few helpful tips to all the new managers out there:

1) Address the shift immediately: If you find yourself managing your former peers you must address the new dynamics immediately. Have a meeting with the staff and your supervisor. Have your supervisor explain the shift and your new role so everyone is clear about the new team dynamic. Whereas you may have gone out with co-workers after work before, that friendship dynamic may no longer be possible. Please keep in mind that some colleagues may be resentful of your promotions but just be professional and focus on running a great program.

2)  Communication- It’s a two way street: A great manager knows how to listen effectively and does not talk down to their employees. Take the time to understand and appreciate the thoughts and feelings of your staff. Have a weekly team meeting where you give a few updates but also allow time for the staff to give updates. A few ideas to get staff talking: have your staff come prepared to discuss a difficult client story, a successful client story, and an issue they need advice on. Then talk through each situation as a team.

3) Effective and Efficient Meetings: In the refugee resettlement world everyone is working at such a fast pace. In order to get your staff to slow down and take the time to comprehend what you need them to learn, be wise about when and how often you schedule meetings. If you don’t have enough information to fill up an agenda, don’t call a meeting. Decide what and when new information needs to be shared. For example ORR changes to programs or problems with TANF are going to lead your agenda. Try to focus on 3 to 5 key issues in each meeting, and try not to meet more than once a week as a team.

4) Delegation: A great manager knows the strengths and weaknesses of their staff. It’s your job now to make sure the workload is divided. A manager does not take on all the work themselves; rather they know what needs to be accomplished and can identify which team member is best suited to accomplish the task. You are there to oversee and guide your staff, not to do their work for them. 

5) Accept Responsibility: Problems arise. Accept responsibility for your own actions, and accept responsibility for your team’s actions. Failure to accept responsibility makes a manager look weak to both superiors and subordinates.

6) One-on-one meetings: These meetings are a great way to learn what your employees need. Employees can sometimes be shy to share in a large groups. Here you will want to focus these meetings on the employee’s: needs, strengths, problems with clients. Ask if they want additional training and how are they managing their time. Some people need help managing their workload and this may mean helping them create a strict weekly schedule. These meetings should also be a chance for employees to hear from you. Positive feedback is always going to be better received. Try to make plans to help employee improve their performance instead of just pointing out their weaknesses. 

7) Continued Professional Development: A manager is someone who is constantly learning and growing. There are tons of great seminars out there on how to be an effective manager, but there are also lots of webinars and resources that can help you advance and grow your employment programs. At the end of this article are a few resources.

8) Find a Mentor: Find someone who is an inspiring manager and ask them if they might become a mentor to you. Advice from someone you respect will go a long way. A mentor can also be a great resource and sounding board for your ideas and problems. Be open about how you are feeling in your new role and what support you need in order to continue growing as a manager. 

9) Passion for the Mission: As a manager you will be asked to address many stakeholders in your community, including employers, funders, and government officials. Public speaking may not be your forte but it will improve over time if you can passionately convey your work. Passion for the clients and your organization’s mission will go a long way in the success of your work and will keep you coming to work with a smile on your face and set a great example for your staff.

10 )Lead by Example: Don’t just tell your staff what to do; show them. A great manager knows how to do the work, not just teach it. Instead of asking new staff to teach job club, give them the opportunity to observe you or another seasoned staff member so that they can learn by example. Offer to sit with them if they have a difficult client, or need support with tasks such as intake paperwork or a food stamp re-certification. Staying engaged in the work of your staff will also give you a chance to exercise and refresh your skills. Above all, inspire others to want to help you accomplish desired goals. People who want to do something are far more effective than people who have to do something.

Additional Tools and Resources for Supervisors and Managers:

Bridging Access to Mainstream Workforce Resources: Rockford, Illinois

-This piece was contributed by Rock Valley College

Rock Valley College—working in collaboration with Catholic Charities, The Workforce Connection and other local partners and employers— offers comprehensive workforce services tailored to the needs of refugees to create a multitude of mutually beneficial relationships and success stories. Heilman attributes some of this success to Rock Valley’s intensive case management concept. A caring case manager matched with interpreters who understand refugees’ adjustment problems all work together to make a huge difference.


Rock Valley College in Rockford, Illinois has been a hub for social networking, employment services, and adult education for refugees since 1978. The college’s Refugee Training Program (RTP) is imbedded in The Workforce Connection, an American Job Center (AJC) channeling mainstream workforce resources to all Rockford job seekers. RTP services and funding streams are integrated, as are programming options for refugees. This is a unique hybrid model that

illustrates some of the WIOA-funded resources refugees can access. Eighteen workforce agency partners are located under one roof at The Workforce Connection office, so refugee clients can easily navigate career opportunities while also taking care of their family’s social and educational needs. The relationship with Rock Valley College is consistent with the concept of a “one-stop-shop” upon which AJCs across the U.S. are structured.

Rock Valley, the only community college in Illinois to receive refugee social service funding, is positioned to offer a full scope of resources and services to refugees including childcare, housing assistance, food stamps, energy assistance, public school resources, and employment assistance.

The college not only facilitates access for refugees by partnering with community agencies but by also applying their connections with workforce resources to create customized career pathways. They are the bridge between training resources and the goal of getting their clients and their skill sets ready for the U.S. workforce.

Populations Served
Catholic Charities Diocese of Rockford resettles approximately 350 refugees in Rockford each year. The majority of these receive services from Rock Valley College at different times in their initial resettlement period when they are no longer participating in other programs that might involve duplication of services. The largest refugee populations being resettled in Rockford now are from Congo, Burma, and Iraq.

Facts about Rockford

The Rockford metropolitan area’s population is 348,360 and projected to decrease. The 8.3% unemployment rate is higher than the national average

Centrally located between Chicago; Milwaukee; Dubuque, Iowa and Madison, Wisconsin, the logistics and transportation sector is one of Rockford’s major industries.
Rockford is home to the nation’s first Harley Davidson Dealership, the rock band Cheap Trick and the Rockford Peaches all-women baseball team from the 1940s and 50’s (made famous in the film A League of Their Own, 1992).

Amy Heilman, who has served refugees at Rock Valley College since 1992, is now the RTP Program Director. According to Heilman, RTP has connections to clients, interpreters, and employers that result in specialized expertise in workforce development for refugees and immigrants. The larger workforce system is not set up to serve every special population that needs to access workforce services. Reliance on specialized community agencies is an approach that has proven effective elsewhere with other special populations (e.g. people with disabilities or urban youth). RTP provides this specialized expertise for refugees and immigrants at The Workforce Connection.

“From the first day of enrollment, we know who refugees’ relatives are and where they live. We might know their neighbors, and we know our clients’ backgrounds. Heilman said. “Most refugees in the community live within a five-mile radius of Rock Valley College. RTP is not only familiar with their culture and their networks, but also their general barriers to employment.”

Core Programs Are the Foundation for Success

Intensive Case Management – The strength of Rock Valley College’s program is due in large part to its Intensive Case Management, a rather stark contrast to other mainstream workforce and adult education programs. Intensive case management is the process of identifying, planning, coordinating, and monitoring services and resources to meet the individual client’s goals. As soon as an individual is enrolled in the program, a case manager begins coordinating services, based on individualized strengths and needs assessments, and establishes a service plan with that individual. Case management services are made possible with diverse funding sources including the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and Work Force Innovation Act (WIOA).

English-language Training – The college’s English-language training program is another strong success factor. All adult refugees are eligible to enroll in Rock Valley College community ESL courses. Clients are either ready for job placement or they continue their study. The next step essential for so many clients needing extra support to gain English skills, and to get oriented to the workplace, they attend the Workplace Transitions for Refugees and Immigrants class: a contextualized and blended ESL/job readiness class covering topics including American workstyles, communication on the job, pay checks, workplace rights and responsibilities, and how to write a resume. The intense course is offered three hours a day for three weeks.

Refugee Youth Program Mural located in the neighborhood. All photos provided by Rock Valley College.

Refugee Youth Program Mural located in the neighborhood. All photos provided by Rock Valley College.

This course will have 30 attendees in 2017 and in WIOA terms it is a short-term pre-vocational training. After completion of this class the participants can enroll in an Individual Training Account (ITA). ITAs are a training option available to eligible and appropriate participants when it is determined by a career planner that they will be unlikely or unable to obtain or retain employment that leads to self-sufficiency or higher wages from previous employment through career services alone. An ITA gets the participant a credential which they can put on their resume. WIOA offers the option to enroll job seekers into Individual Training Accounts which are a per capita funding mechanism paying for training to support the job seekers specific career goals. Eligible clients purchase training services from eligible training providers – in this case the Transitions class – that they select in consultation with a career planner.

Participants are expected to utilize information such as skills assessments, labor market trends, and training providers’ performance, and to take an active role in managing their employment future through the use of an ITA. An ITA may be awarded to eligible adults, dislocated workers, and out of school youth ages 18-24. ITAs are not entitlements and can be provided to eligible participants on the basis of an individualized assessment of the person’s needs and documented on the participant’s Individual Employment Plan (IEP). RTP applies ITA funds to help refugees gain the skills they need from among all of the training options offered.

From these courses, they are referred to job search activities which can include placement, transitional job programs, additional vocational training or OJT.

Job Development and Placement Services – Job Development staff within the mainstream workforce development system are most commonly called Business Service Representatives (or BSRs).. Rock Valley’s BSRs work with employers and identify job opportunities for job seekers who visit The Workforce Connection. One BSR and one Employment Specialist manage all employment functions for refugees as a part of Rock Valley’s staff structure. These services include interviewing refugee students about employment needs, maintaining the connection to employers, providing job leads, and referring enrollees to classes.

The program has exceeded its goals for the last program year:

  • Percentage of Participants students placed in employment – 96% last program year (goal of 75%)
  • Percentage of Participants students retained in that job after 90 days – 89% last program year (goal of 80%)
  • Average earnings 90 days out – exceeded the set dollar amount set for last program year

This tracking has continued to fuel the success of the program as they continually gather outcome information that informs the way they work with their clients. Additionally, clients in WIOA-funded programs get a 12 month follow up after job placement and it too has shown good outcomes again allowing for continued learning.

Rock Valley’s BSR maintains contact with a variety of companies, from large corporations to independently owned shops. Lowe’s Home Improvement hires for a variety of jobs – pickers, packers, loaders, unloaders, transportation and sales associates. A large commercial laundry employs many as do small business environments.

On-the-Job Training (OJT) – On average about 15% of refugee clients access On the Job Training programs. These courses provide a bridge or on-ramp to

Refugee Worker at Rock Valley commercial laundry

Refugee Worker at Rock Valley commercial laundry

allow refugees to transition into more advanced job training programs in healthcare, manufacturing, transportation or logistics. Instructors also offer specific guidance to explore career options and develop the study skills required for a certificate or degree programs. The OJT program provides refugees with a real job and subsidizes up to 75% of wages and training costs to the employer. Participants earn money while learning new job skills with an employer. “Upon conclusion of the training time, most applicants are hired with no strings attached,” said Mark Spain, Business Services Coordinator in Rock Valley’s Refugee Training Program. “The program can be utilized in a variety of occupations, from entry-level to professional,” he continued. Refugees have been placed in jobs from manufacturing to technology professionals, depending on employers’ needs and participants’ skill sets.

According to Heilman, the reason that more refugee clients do not access OJT is that they do not meet the English language proficiency requirement (the standard varies depending upon the industry but often centers around an 8th grade English level). Additionally, the paperwork required of employers sometimes discourages them from participating in the federal OJT program. The employers utilizing OJT are often employers who are struggling to find qualified workers. “[In Illinoise], it is typically manufactures who find the OJT program to be a valuable approach to filling vacancies.” Learn more about OJT programs.

Refugee Success Stories

Mu Dah

Mu Dah spent 13 years in a Burmese refugee camp in Thailand. After resettlement in the U.S., initially this single mother spoke no English and lacked reliable transportation or childcare. The combination of intensive case management and an observant ESL teacher proved to be life-changing. “The ESL instructors saw in her a desire to learn and encouraged her,” Heilman said. “She slowly gained self-confidence, began attending the job readiness class consistently, and eventually achieved her first employment opportunity, at Goodwill Industries.”

The skills and training provided at Goodwill – part of a WIOA-funded work experience training opportunity – helped her transition to a job at Spider Company, a 70,000-square-foot facility in Rockford that produces small high-tech engineering parts for the aerospace, farming and healthcare industries. The Workforce Connection paid her salary at Goodwill and provided a training plan for the skills they wanted her to learn for the job. “Rock Valley College helped me get trained and then find employment at Spider Company which helped my family succeed,” Mu Dah said. “I am so happy about getting a job and now have money to afford better things.”

Mulenda Bisoga

Mulenda Bisoga left Congo in 1998, when rebel and government forces were in conflict. After a long and painful journey, Mulenda and his family came to Rockford in 2014. He began taking English classes through Rock Valley College. He soon went to work in Rochelle, Illinois and has now been working with the same employer for more than a year and enjoys his position. Out of hundreds of nominees from throughout the state, Mulenda received Illinois’ annual Workforce Partnership Award for his success.

Amy Heilman, Program Director of the Refugee Training Program

Amy Heilman, Program Director of the Refugee Training Program

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:


Holiday Outreach Strategy + Holiday Graphic!

Showing appreciation for your employer partners is easier than ever before.

We designed this holiday graphic to provide you with an easy and quick way to send a thank you email to employers and community partners. 

You can do it in three easy steps:

1. Download a high resolution JPEG by right clicking on the below image and selecting “Save As”.

higher-holiday-card 2016

(or Download a PDF here)

2. Add your agency logo and message to an email.

3. Hit send.

Do you have a holiday outreach strategy that works? Please share in the comments below or contact us with the details!