You can tell a lot about an organization from the people who support it.
This week some of you attended our annual Volunteer Appreciation party at IRIS. I loved noticing that you come from all walks of life. Among the diverse crowd of 40, there were attorneys, a former teacher, jewelry designer, medical secretary, former Peace Corps Volunteer, Muslim chaplain, and film maker -- to name a few.
What you have in common is your enthusiasm to help new Americans. As you know, refugee resettlement is especially tough in Connecticut, where entry-level jobs are scarce and the cost of living is high. Your generosity makes it possible for Connecticut to give an enthusiastic welcome to these newcomers.
We hope many more of you will join us at our 2012 World Refugee Day Celebration on June 20th. (See invitation above.) This is a true community event. Come and meet your newest refugee neighbors, soak up the art and culture, and watch a wonderful new film.
After meeting some of you last month, a US Department of State official who was visiting New Haven, commented that community support here is among the strongest in the nation. “Many refugee agencies around the country will talk about support from the private sector,” he said. “But here it is really happening.”
You are making refugee resettlement happen in Connecticut.
You can tell a lot about a community from the way it welcomes refugees.
Working Towards Working: an IRIS Odyssey
—Paul Hammer, Volunteer
soon as refugees arrive to Connecticut, the clock starts ticking. IRIS
helps refugees become economically self-sufficient as soon as
possible. But the challenges are immense. First, most refugees do not
speak English. They also face problems with transportation; gaps in
their educational and employment history due to refugee status overseas;
and a depressed economy with a high unemployment rate. And yet, these
courageous and determined individuals rise to meet the challenges.
IRIS's employment services staff, with the assistance of a dedicated corps of volunteers and interns, help refugees prepare resumes and cover letters, and practice for interviews. They provide job leads and teach clients how to search for jobs on their own. IRIS offers daily onsite English classes to help clients communicate on the job and in daily life. Volunteers provide orientation to the public bus system and community members donate cars. Once a client starts a job, volunteers and staff are also available to coach them as necessary.
In the New Haven area, employers who hire refugees have quickly discovered their work ethic and dependable attendance. These include temporary agencies such as Adecco, and companies that offer permanent employment, such as Chabaso Bakery.
A CASE IN POINT
One inspiring story is that of Tambwe Kininga, a refugee from Congo. After fleeing civil war in his homeland, Tambwe spent four years in Kenya, eager for an opportunity to come to the US. As he waited, Tambwe taught high school math, chemistry and physics in Nairobi.
Tambwe came to New Haven in June 2011, he immediately began looking for
a job. Within 1 1/2 months, he was hired as a housekeeper at the New
Haven Hotel. He soon transitioned to houseperson, responding to guests'
requests for service, and six months later, he was promoted to Room
Inspector/ Supervisor. Tambwe also referred to the hotel a fellow IRIS
client from Congo, and he was hired.
When asked about the greatest challenge he faced in adjusting to work in the United States, Tambwe said: "The fast-paced setting did take a bit of adjustment." He has also had to get used to cultural differences, since his big smiles and friendly greetings are not always returned by the hotel’s guests!
Working in an entry-level job is only the beginning of his story. Tambwe has wanted to be a doctor since the age of eight, and hopes to someday return to Congo to practice neurosurgery. Tambwe plans to enroll at Gateway Community College this fall and begin the long road towards a pre-med program in college, medical school, and training.
We wish Tambwe all the best with his future plans and thank him for being an inspiration to his peers and to all of us!
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Refugees need jobs—and you can help them! If you hear of a job opening, especially for an entry-level position, tell us about it. If you would like to serve as an employment mentor (preparing resumes and conducting mock interviews) please join us as a volunteer. If you are an employer, please consider hiring a refugee. Contact Kelly Hebrank, Deputy Director, by e-mail or phone (203-562-2095, ext. 218).
was yoga class that led Paula Burkhard to IRIS. In 2010, a Board member
and fellow yoga devotee invited Paula to an IRIS event, the Bill of
Rightsin Concert. Paula enjoyed that event so much that she attended an
IRIS Open House. There Paula learned about volunteer opportunities, and
felt called to help at the weekly food pantry."I grew up in a big family
in New York City during the '50s. By the end of the month, we often
didn't have enough to eat and would go to local bakeries to get day-old
Because she is retired and has a car, Paula is an ideal volunteer to pick up food from the CT Food Bank and deliver it to IRIS. A former senior manager in quality and process management at AT&T, Paula also brings important organizational skills to her role. "It's a little 'OCD,' but I know the food pantry runs more smoothly if the boxes are packed with heavier items on the bottom, and if all the labels face front on the shelves."
Every Tuesday for the past year, Paula has helped pick up, deliver, and carry about 1800 lbs. of food up the stairs to the IRIS food pantry. "Important things in my life I try to make habitual because I know people are counting on me, and I want to be reliable. I also meet a lot of really nice people."
Thank you, Paula—and all our food pantry volunteers—for helping to feed over 300 refugees and immigrants each month!
who make it to the US are often considered the "lucky ones". They are
free from persecution, and they have opportunities herethat certainly
did not exist in a refugee camp, nor in the countries from which they
fled. But admission to the US is not always a happy ending; for many it
is the beginning of another long wait.
Because war scatters families across several countries--sometimes continents--women sometimes accept resettlement to the US with their youngest children, without the assurance that their husbands and older children, if alive, will be able to join them. IRIS Legal Services helps these families reunite.
This was the case for Tsion and her young daughter, Eritreans who arrived in the US in 2005, having spent three years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Tsion's two adult daughters and her first grandson were left behind in Ethiopia. Tsion worked hard in a series of hotel and factory jobs to support herself and her daughter. After one year, IRIS Legal Services helped her become a permanent resident.
Four years later, Tsion successfully completed an apprenticeship program and become a carpenter. After hours of civics classes, and three attempts at the difficult written test, she became a proud US citizen in 2011. Finally, after six years of waiting, Tsion could try to bring her family to the US. IRIS Legal Services Director, Barbara O’Brien, helped her file family relative petitions, including DNA tests and financial affidavits, and arranged interviews for her daughters at the US Embassy in Ethiopia.
Thanks to the generous support of IRIS donors, the wait is almost over. IRIS expects that Tsion's family will be reunited this year.
Imagine trying to concentrate in English
class, or look for a job when you have chronic pain or injuries that
have gone untreated for years. Or imagine being in a new country and
not speaking the language, trying to figure out medical insurance, how
to schedule a doctor’s appointment, and where to fill a prescription,
without someone helping you. Thanks to the support of IRIS’s many
partners, this is not the case for refugees who come to New Haven. For
the last few years, IRIS has partnered with Yale-New Haven Hospital’s
Primary Care Center to run Refugee Health Clinics in which IRIS clients
can receive comprehensive health care almost immediately after they
arrive in New Haven. IRIS’s Health and Wellness Program is currently
funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (a branch of the US
Department of Health and Human Services), and the Annie E. Casey
IRIS’s health program is seen as a “best practice” in the field of refugee resettlement, and IRIS has consulted with other refugee resettlement agencies who seek to establish robust refugee health programs. View a 3-minute video about this work.
From 2010-2011, IRIS partnered with Dr. Katherine Yun, a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at Yale University, to research the health status of refugees who were resettled by IRIS between 2006-2010, and their utilization of health care. This community report, Foundations for Health 2011, is the result of that work. In March 2012, the Journal of Community Health published an article about this research, and in April 2012, Dr. Yun and Kelly Hebrank, IRIS Deputy Director, presented a poster at the Global Health and Innovation Conference at Yale.