Office of Refugee Resettlement Newsletter - March 2012
Across the world, the end of winter is traditionally a time of hope and renewal. For the Office of Refugee Resettlement, our eternal hope is that refugees will find safety and success, and reunite with family members long-separated by war and displacement.
I recently attended UNHCR's Working Group on Resettlement meeting in Australia. This year's theme-One refugee resettled, many lives protected-reminds me that refugee resettlement extends far beyond the numbers we bring to our country through resettlement. Refugee families across America balance meeting their own needs here, with supporting family members in countries of asylum as well as countries of origin. Notions of home and family are never easy to define, but it is my hope that we, as refugee service providers, are doing everything we can to ease the transition for the most vulnerable among us.
On that note, I am happy to report that for FY2011, refugees enrolled in ORR's Matching Grant Program achieved remarkable results, with 55.5% achieving self-sufficiency at 120 days post-resettlement, and a full 71% reaching this benchmark at 180 days. Our thanks go out to ORR's partner agencies across the country, and to all refugee participants for their hard work and great success. May the numbers continue to rise in FY2012!
In this edition of the ORR Newsletter, we kick off a recurring guest column featuring a Mayor from a key resettlement city in America. We are pleased to start this series with the Honorable David H. Bieter, Mayor of Boise, Idaho. Mayor Bieter is currently serving his third four-year term in office, representing Boise's citizens and refugees (and refugees who have become citizens) alike. Boise resettles between 500 and 900 refugees per year, with most of the recent arrivals coming from Burma and Bhutan. Like many cities across the country, Boise faces the challenges of tight employment and housing markets. Yet, its community-based resettlement approach has made it a good home for refugees and their families; but I'll let Mayor Bieter tell you more about Boise's successes.
The Mayor's Corner
The Place Where I Need to Be
By David H. Bieter, Mayor of Boise
Boise was built by immigrants. As the most remote metropolitan area in the lower 48 states, our city has long been a place where people came from around the world to find economic opportunity and build a better life.
Ninety-five years ago, a man named Lorenzo Garmendia was trying to make a living here in Idaho and wrote to his family in the Basque Country:
"I've really been wanting to get involved in the sheep business and either lose the little money that I have or earn double the amount, because even if I lose the little money that I have, there are good wages for work after you go bankrupt. The worst that can happen after you go bankrupt is that I'll have to be an old single guy, because nobody wants an old single guy without money."
Since the early 1980s, when Boise became a refugee resettlement community, our city has welcomed not only those seeking to make their livelihoods but also those escaping political, ethnic and religious oppression. Resettlement agencies discovered the many positive attributes that those of us fortunate to live in Boise well know: plentiful entry-level jobs; affordable housing; easy transportation; abundant arts, cultural and recreational opportunities; and a safe and welcoming community.
Boise Mayor Bieter greets schoolchildren with books and pajamas.
Even these attributes have been challenged by the recent national recession. Our newest residents are often the hardest hit in hard times, and because employment is critical to successful resettlement, many refugees have found themselves on the brink of homelessness.
In response, the City of Boise and the Idaho Office for Refugees convened a roundtable of community partners and resettlement agencies. The goals: to understand the resettlement process, to determine how refugees and resettlement agencies define successful resettlement, and to explore opportunities with our many community partners to increase the services essential to that success.
The roundtable led to creation of the Refugee Resource Strategic Community Plan with six focus areas (Education, Employment, Health, Housing, Social Integration and Transportation), setting goals in each area and assigning action items to community partners. Critical to the planning process was the trust and commitment of the resettlement agencies, which informed the community's understanding of the resettlement process and provided expert guidance in setting service priorities for successful resettlement.
While a recession negatively impacts a community's employment, it need not diminish a community's caring qualities. This plan, created and implemented in the depths of the recession, demonstrates the importance and success of a broad, community-based planning effort. More importantly, it resulted in measurable differences in economic self sufficiency. In 2009, 55% of Boise's employable refugee adults were working. With concerted economic development efforts, that number jumped to 74% in 2011.
Lorenzo Garmendia not only made a life in Boise; he found a wife and had three daughters, one of whom was my mother, Eloise Garmendia Bieter. Fidel Nshombo's words in his 2009 book, Route to Peace: The Cries of the Forgotten Refugees in Deadly Camps, echo the experience of my grandfather almost a century earlier:
"Boise was a place I never dreamed of, a place I never heard of, a place where today I think I really needed to be all along. A place of peace, love and prosperity. A place that allowed me to search for myself, my family, my dream ..."
Photos courtesy Theresa McLeod
Spotlight on ORR Partnerships
ORR Children's Services and the Child Welfare League of America
ORR's mission-to provide people in need with critical resources to assist them in becoming integrated members of American society-could not be accomplished without its vast network of partners and grantees. One such partner, the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), a coalition of hundreds of private and public agencies serving vulnerable children and families, assists with Case Coordination in ORR's Division of Children's Services (DCS).
In this capacity, CWLA provides on-going training and curriculum development for the Case Coordination staff, who in turn provide independent, child welfare-based recommendations on decisions related to family reunification for unaccompanied alien children.
CWLA recently held its national conference on February 29th in Crystal City, Virginia. Child welfare professionals from across the country shared best practices and the latest innovations in child welfare. DCS Program Specialist Ann Dandridge and Federal Field Specialist David Fink represented ORR at the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) conference, and gave a presentation on ORR's Unaccompanied Alien Children's program in a super session entitled "The Vulnerabilities of Immigrant Families: A Social Work Practice".
Presenters in the session also included KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), International Social Service-USA, First Focus, and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS). CWLA has provided ORR staff and funding recipients with vital training and technical assistance to support efforts to improve care for unaccompanied children, and address the challenging intersections of migration and child protection issues.
A link to the conference brochure is available on the CWLA website.
ORR and ACF's Office of Family Assistance
Health Professions Opportunity Grants (HPOG)
While it may seem counter-intuitive, highly skilled refugees often face the most hurdles in their transition to the U.S. job market. This is especially true for those with education and training in the healthcare sector, where licensing and certification requirements for foreign-trained professionals often require applicants to re-do years of specialized (and expensive) training. Yet, the U.S. faces a recognized shortage of qualified healthcare professionals, especially for medically under-served areas and populations.
Within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), ORR has been working closely with the Office of Family Assistance (OFA) to bridge this gap, connecting refugee resettlement programs with OFA's Health Professions Opportunity Grants (HPOG). These grants-funded by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act-provide low-income individuals and TANF participants with comprehensive healthcare-related training to improve their ability to enter a variety of healthcare professions, including home care aides, certified nursing assistants, medical assistants, pharmacy technicians, emergency medical technicians, licensed vocational nurses, registered nurses, dental assistants, and health information technicians. The grants also support foreign-trained doctors on their journey to recertification.
In San Diego, CA, the San Diego Workforce Partnership is working with the local International Rescue Committee (IRC) affiliate to support HPOG services to refugees. This collaboration has proved to be very beneficial, with refugee clients comprising nearly 50% of enrollees. In Year One of the program, IRC enrolled 36 clients, with a reported 16 refugees well on their way to doctor recertification. So far in Year Two, 21 refugee enrollees are working towards completion of their medical certificates, and two are currently going through the US Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) process-the last step to achieve a license to practice medicine in the United States.
In addition to doctor recertification, OFA funds 27 training programs to prepare participants for employment within the healthcare sector. Focusing on preparing people for much-needed skills and competencies in the healthcare industry-including incentives for dedicated healthcare workers in underserved regions-programs such as HPOG help ACF support individuals, families, and communities, including the newest Americans.
For more information about the HPOG program, please visit ACF's Office of Family Assistance website.
America's First All-Hmong Scout Troop
By Yimeem Vu
On any given Friday night, from the basement of the Westminster Presbyterian Church located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, you can hear shouts of joy echoing through the halls as a troop of Boy Scouts play a game, learn a new first aid skill, or earn a new rank. These days, the shouts are usually in English, with the occasional Hmong phrases thrown in from time to time. Although the primary language has changed, the scene is similar to what you would find 31 years ago, when Hmong refugees were first resettled in Minnesota.
In the fall of 1981, teacher Dave Moore walked into Thomas Edison High School in Minneapolis expecting a regular start to the school year. Instead, he was greeted by hundreds of bewildered faces, gathered in the hallway looking scared and unsure. He later learned that the new students were Hmong refugee children from the highlands of Laos, resettled to Minnesota with their families, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The principal, knowing Moore was a Scoutmaster for the local Boy Scout Troop 33, asked Moore to help organize the students. What started as an effort to help the Hmong students integrate into the local school system turned into Boy Scout Troop 100-the first all-Hmong scout troop in Minnesota, and the first of its kind in the United States.
In January 2012, Troop 100 reached a milestone in scouting - promoting one of its ranks as the 100th Eagle Scout of the troop. More than 40 of the troop's Eagle Scouts gathered to help them celebrate this monumental occasion. Also in attendance was Richard Neuner, the regional Northern Star Council's Volunteer President, who deemed it a "great achievement", and further commented that the continued level of participation by past Eagles in everyday troop activities was "a model for other troops in the council."
Many of the Eagles have since moved on with their lives, raising families, attending college for the first time in their families' histories, and breaking new ground as leaders in their respective communities. They have become elected officials, NASA aeronautical engineers, and doctors; some have even followed in Moore's footsteps to become teachers. Although the emphasis has changed from learning English and the "American" way of life, to participating in more traditional scouting activities, the troop still helps Hmong boys connect with one other. In a bit of irony, Troop 100 now also helps the boys learn about and preserve the traditional Hmong culture.
Every Friday night during the school year, you will still find Dave Moore (now 73 years old and retired from teaching) driving around Minneapolis and St. Paul in the all-black school bus affectionately painted with the Hmong Troop 100 logo, picking up scouts for the weekly meeting.
Yimeem Vu is a Program Analyst for ORR's Individual Development Account program, and an Eagle Scout from Troop 100.
Refugees across the country have lost thousands of dollars to telephone scam artists targeting newly-arrived refugees. For more information, please see the advisory posted on ORR's website. Victims of the scam are encouraged to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Please help spread the word throughout the community, and guard your personal information.
ORR wants to hear from you!
We look forward to receiving your comments and suggestions for this Newsletter, as well as nominations for ORR Heroes. Send your comments and suggestions to ORR, at ORR_listserve at acf.hhs.gov.
FY2011 Funding Map
Now updated on the ORR website!
ORR is currently accepting grant proposals for Year Two of the Microenterprise Development: Home Based Child Care Initiative. Visit the ORR website for the full announcement, and more information on this new and exciting opportunity.
ORR is currently revising its website, transitioning to a new design with more interactive features. Stay tuned as it rolls out throughout the year. Be sure to visit the main ORR website for updated program information, funding opportunity announcements, and other key information.