New Company Golden Gate Offers Refugees Work and a Second Family
May 2018 – Article and photo by John Curtis
On a blustery morning in October, seven workers spread out across Yale University’s Farnam Memorial Garden. As winds blew over the exposed hill, several workers cut down errant tree branches and carried them to a waiting dumpster. Others rolled a fallen log down a hill for pickup by a truck.
The workers—from Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria—share no common language and communicate via minimal English, hand signals, and gestures. Among the languages they speak are Arabic, Swahili, Tigrinya, Amharic, and French. Yet despite their disparate origins and languages, the workers do share a common experience.
All are refugees who left their homes to escape war or autocratic regimes. And all are working for Golden Gate, LLC, a company founded in an effort that included IRIS, a Yale official, and Rafid Bayati, an Iraqi entrepreneur. Like the workers, Bayati also fled violence in his home country.
“I established this company to help other refugees and to establish a family,” Bayati said, during a mid-morning break that began when he arrived bearing coffee and donuts.
Among the crew was Randa Seifeddin, who previously worked as a chef. She left her home in Homs, Syria, because of the war. After more than four years in Jordan, she and her family came to the United States in the fall of 2016.
Hachim Ali came from Darfur in Sudan. “We have tribal problems, people shooting people,” said Ali, who was a business student in Khartoum.
Kabichi Alinoto, who worked as a teacher and farmer in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was only one month in the United States when he started working on the Prospect Street hilltop. He fled the Congo with his wife and six children due to war.
The crew’s foreman, Mahmood Shakir, came from Baghdad in 2014. His older brother had become a target for death threats after working as an interpreter for the U.S. military. When his father narrowly survived an assassination attempt as he arrived home from work, the family left Baghdad.
The garden cleanup was Golden Gate’s first contract; they’ve since secured several other contracts doing custodial and landscaping work at Yale properties. Golden Gate began when Dean Takahashi, senior director of the Yale Investments Office, approached IRIS with a desire to help immigrants and refugees. Will Kneerim, director of employment services at IRIS, came up with the idea of forming the company. Takahashi and Kneerim turned to Bayati to take on the entrepreneurial role of founding the LLC, with the help of IRIS volunteer Iain York.
Bayati already had a full-time job as a team leader at Schick Manufacturing in Milford. But his schedule—two 12-hour days followed by a few days off—gave him free time during working hours to manage the company. He doesn’t take a salary from Golden Gate and all the company’s proceeds go to employee salaries, insurance, and other costs of running a business.
“I established this company to help other refugees and to establish a family,”
In Baghdad Bayati was an electrical engineer who ran his own company and then worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after the invasion in 2003. In 2006 he took his wife and three children to Jordan after receiving death threats from insurgents over his work with the Army.
“They killed my cousin and sent me a message, ‘You are the next,’” Bayati said.
Bayati was an ideal choice to lead the nascent company, Kneerim said. “If you give up your home, your family, your job, and start all over again, that is an enormous risk you are taking. Who better to understand than someone who has been through it?”
Bayati sees his mission with Golden Gate as not only providing jobs and an income to his workers, but helping them assimilate into American society. His first challenge with his multilingual crew was overcoming the language barrier. English would have to be the lingua franca.
“I need them to feel comfortable in this country,” said Bayati, who hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for the crew. “These people are more like family to me than workers.”
The workers at Golden Gate, Bayati said, have received strong performance reviews from their employers at Yale. The crew is available for landscaping and custodial work and can be reached at (203) 415-9898. To learn more about Golden Gate, go to www.goldengatect.com