Celebrate a Social Media Milestone with Higher

Woohoo!  We reached 100 likes on Facebook.  That’s a great milestone to achieve in less than two months.  We take that as a sign that we’re reaching more employment professionals with useful information.

To celebrate, we’ll send a great tote bag made by refugee women from recycled billboards to the next three readers who comment on any of our facebook posts.

If you missed our previous post, read more about Billboard Bags success story.  Thanks to Gisele Nelson for providing the great photos – and to photographer Morgan Blake for taking them.

100 FB like Bag PicMonkey Collage

Friday Feature: Somalis in Maine, by Kim Huisman, et.al.

Somalis in Maine Book CoverIn light of recent remarks and media coverage attempting to link the Somali community in the US to events overseas, Somalis in Maine, edited by Kim Huisman, et. al. is timely.  It was recommended  by several people in the refugee social services community in Maine during research for the next issue of Higher’s Newsletter coming out later this year.  I’m still waiting for my copy in the mail, so haven’t read it, yet.

In just a brief visit, it was impossible to miss the community ties Somalis continue to deepen in their new home in Portland and Lewiston.

  • I watched soccer over tea and pastry in a Somali-owned shop in downtown Lewiston established with a small business loan and technical assistance from the StartSmart refugee program of Coastal Enterprise Institute.
  • I bought fresh, organic produce at a farm stand that is a part of training and income generation for Somali farmers in the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project at Cultivating Communities.

It’s especially important now to share balanced information about the contributions Somali and all refugees make in the US.  You can read a bit about the Somali community perspective on recent events in this article from the New York Times. It would be great to hear from anyone who has read this book already.

(Every Friday we highlight one entertainment option related to our clients or some aspect of our work to help you celebrate the weekend and possibly recommend to employers and other community supporters in the following week.)

Friday Feature: The Refugee Experience in YA and Children’s Literature

Chachaji's Cup Refugee Children's LiteratureThere has been an explosion of young adult (YA) fiction in recent years, much of it also popular with adult readers.  A friend of mine who is a children’s librarian has given me some great childrens and YA books over the years.  When I asked her for ideas for a Friday Feature, Lucinda the librarian shot back a quick email response with this great list of picture and chapter books about the refugee experience through the eyes of young refugees published by The University of Arizona College of Education.

I like that many of the selections talk about refugees who resettled in other countries, as well as the US.  The one in the picture, Chachaji’s Cup,  features refugees from the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.  Some of them focus on life in refugee camps or on the run.  Others show life for refugees in Australia and the UK.  They definitely include all  of the diverse experiences and cultures we work with on a daily basis.

Employment professionals don’t often have much direct interaction with children since they aren’t entering the workforce.  But these books address all kinds of issues we do encounter every day – generation gaps, memories of home, overcoming trauma, feeling isolated.  We all see how refugee children become the bridge for their families to begin to engage in school and other community resources.  Maybe citizen children can also become the conduits for deepening community awareness among the adults in their lives?  Employers, co-workers or other community allies for our employment work are also parents.


(Every Friday we highlight one entertainment option related to our clients or some aspect of our work to help you celebrate the weekend and possibly recommend to employers and other community supporters in the following week.)

How to Use FREE Online Training and Education Resources

ToMortar Boardday, I found a great list of 20 free on-line educational resources through Higher’s FlipBoard magazine that includes some I’ve heard of and others that are new to me.   I wish I had time to investigate each one to evaluate the quality – which varies widely in on-line education and training offerings.  I can still think of several ways we could use these in our work with clients.

Addressing Language Skills:  If a client has already studies a subject in their native language, a basic course could help them learn vocabulary and terminology in English or help them understand what emphasis or application might be different in the US context.  At least one of the sites (Alison.com) offers courses in Arabic language.  The MIT site offers courses translated into Spanish, Persian and several other languages.  There are likely other non-English language resources available from among the list.

Helping Clients Learn Basic (and more Advanced) Workplace Skills:  A couple of the sites offer courses on basic workplace skills and topics like project management, how to find a mentor, health and safety requirements and an overview of the manufacturing process.  These are likely not covered in job readiness class, but many clients could benefit from learning more about them.

Access basic US-style academic courses:  It can be frustrating for clients who yearn to attend college or University, but aren’t quite ready.  Many times, clients sign-up for on-line degrees and don’t understand the financial and time commitment or what it takes to succeed in on-line learning.  Helping clients identify relevant courses could satisfy their desire to learn while working full-time and help them understand the skills they need to succeed in any academic environment.  Some of the sites include standardized test preparation materials, as well.

Figuring out Technical Career Paths:  So many clients say they “know about computers”, but don’t know how those skills are segmented and applied in the job market.  Often, I struggled to figure out career paths and industry leads for technical skills that were completely unfamiliar to me.  With a little research, it seems like you could improve your understanding of these sectors and identify resources for clients to do so.

It would be great to hear from you about which sites you found useful and how you used them.  We’re all busy, but maybe if you can provide the list to clients, they can tell you what was useful for them.

And, stay tuned to begin using Higher’s new on-line training courses in the next month or so.  Our initial topics include  How to Communicate with Employers (for employment professionals) and Workplace Culture (for clients).  If you want to get involved in field testing to be among the first to use this great new resource designed just for us, get in touch at .


Friday Feature: Outcasts United by Warren St. John

“Noone coutcasts-united_170_242_san do everything.  But everyone can do something.”

For me, this quote from Outcasts United, by Warren St. John captures the spirit of the story of a refugee soccer team, a remarkable woman coach and a small southern town turned upside down by the process of refugee resettlement.”

It goes way beyond soccer to capture everything refugees experience, including long commutes to work, being too tired to help with homework and struggling to pay the bills with a minimum wage job.  It’s also inspiring.

Since it was published in 2010, national media coverage about it has helped raise public awareness about refugees. The City of San Diego featured it in a city-wide book club and IRC organized several related events, including a visit by Coach Luma Mufleh.  More than 40 colleges and universities have included it in their required reading lists.  I had the chance to hear Coach Luma Mufleh speak this summer.  After the event, everyone was talking about how they could get involved with refugees in their community.

Reading it is guaranteed to strengthen enthusiasm and support for your work.



Friday Feature: War Witch (2013)

War Witch Movie Poster 1Mental and emotional health barriers are among the most difficult to address.  Employment may not address them directly, but they have many impacts on our work.  Close collaboration with resettlement case managers can help you identify work environments that might recreate trauma, alert you to the need for a longer pre-employment period or flexible work schedules to accommodate medical appointments.

War Witch is an award-winning film that portrays some of the traumatic experiences our clients struggle to overcome, through the eyes of an African child soldier and her family.  Although it portrays war in an anonymous Sub-Saharan African country, it was filmed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which will help you envision the landscape an increasing number of our clients come from.

Although the movie isn’t for the faint hearted (or for family viewing), joyful Afro pop music and belief in the power of mysticism help sustain hope in the movie heroine – and in many of our clients.  They’ll also make you want to dance.  You can easily check out vibrant Congolese music.  Google Papa Wemba for a classic or check out BeatMakingLab in Goma, Congo from PBS Digital Studios.

(Every Friday we highlight one entertainment option related to our clients or some aspect of our work to help you celebrate the weekend and possibly recommend to employers and other community supporters in the following week.)

Higher Welcomes Lorel Donaghey as Research and Communications Specialist

We’re very excited to announce that we are gaining a talented new staff member, Lorel Donaghey. Starting July 29, she will be adding her deep expertise to our team as Higher’s Research and Communications Specialist.

Lorel Donaghey comes to us from six and a half years in Texas at the Caritas of Austin Employment Program. There, she worked as Senior Employment Specialist and Job Developer, piloting both of those positions as the Employment unit expanded from 4 to 11 staff members.  She also served on the Higher Peer Advisory Network, contributing to our blog and other publications, and in online and peer exchange workshops.  Previously, she worked to strengthen nonprofits internationally in training, assessment, organizational development, and field office management.  Lorel has an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management, speaks Russian and Spanish, and brings a strong belief in the importance of helping refugees and other immigrant families succeed in the United States.

Lorel will primarily focus on Higher’s website, virtual trainings, and other online communications that are critical to the technical assistance we provide to front-line refugee employment professionals.  Lorel’s experience on the front lines, as well as her innovative ideas on how to strengthen refugee employment services, are really going to benefit Higher and LIRS as a whole.

LIRS’ President and CEO, Linda Hartke, had a chance to ask Lorel a few questions about her new role. Here’s what she said:

What personal experiences led you to become so committed to standing with refugees?

My commitment to standing with refugees really began with my previous career in international development.  When I came back to live in the United States, I wanted work that continued to engage with different cultures and had a global element.  Soon, admiration for the resilience, spirit and diverse contributions refugees make here at home joined that need for a broader worldview in my every day life as a sustaining motivation to continue working with refugee resettlement programs.

What excites you most about working with Higher?

I’ve had a little crush on LIRS since participating in Higher strategic planning with Higher Director Rebecca Armstrong and LIRS Vice President for Programs and Protection Mike Mitchell, and after hearing the expertise of the employment professionals in the LIRS field network whom I’ve met at Higher events.  So, I’m really thrilled to contribute in a more direct way.

But, I’m actually most excited about finding yet another way in which my life intersects with that of my great Aunt Dee, who lived across the street from my family and was 101 when she died.  She married a Lutheran minister when she was in her late 30s after traveling to attend college with her sisters in a covered wagon, graduating from Columbia in the late 1800’s as one of the first women to attend and traveling to Cuba as a missionary in a steam ship from New York City.  I definitely have her spirit of adventure and use the trunk she traveled with as a coffee table.  I hope I have her longevity, too!

What do you most hope to achieve while in your new position?

I’ve long wanted to do more work with online content and social media, especially after blogging for Higher as I started the Job Development function at Caritas of Austin, so I’m excited for the chance to further hone those skills in my new position.  Through that part of my work, I really hope I can help add the knowledge and passion of the  LIRS and Refugee Employment networks to the ongoing national conversation around immigration reform and the valuable contribution made by immigrants (including refugees) throughout U.S. history.