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Office of Refugee Resettlement Newsletter - January 2015

Published: January 29, 2015

CONNECTIONS Newsletter bannerWelcome to the first edition of CONNECTIONS: An Office of Refugee Resettlement Newsletter! Connections is an important source of information for resettlement stakeholders, as well as mainstream partners from shared services agencies. Through this newsletter, ORR will connect you to stories from resettlement stakeholders, resources, information, meetings, and events from ORR and partner agencies. Grounded in a client-centered approach, ORR believes that serving refugees requires a government and community-wide engagement across this nation. Together, we must all be Refugee Champions, championing the successful integration of newcomers to our communities! 

This edition of Connections features:

ORR will send Connections to your in-box every other month. Connect to ORR by visiting our website. Provide your feedback, story ideas, and events by emailing us.

Due to White House by February 9: Ideas for Federal Immigrant & Refugee Integration Strategy

In November 2014, the President created a White House Task Force on New Americans. The goal of the Task Force is to develop a federal immigrant and refugee integration strategy that allows new Americans to contribute to society to their fullest potential and bring new Americans together with their receiving communities.

Recently, a White House blog post highlighted the creation of the Task Force and called for ideas to help shape the focus of federal immigration and refugee integration strategy. The White House created a specific email account for gathering stakeholder ideas. Please send your ideas—big or small—to NewAmericans@who.eop.gov by February 9th, 2015.

New Roots Initiative Promotes Refugee Wellbeing through Gardening

Baltimore is the newest location for an International Rescue Committee (IRC) New Roots Garden. New Roots is an IRC initiative that "enables refugees to reestablish their ties to the land, celebrate their heritage and nourish themselves and their neighbors by planting strong roots—literally—in their new communities."

The New Roots garden in BaltimoreThe New Roots garden in Baltimore is an oasis of 15 raised beds across the street from the IRC office. Each bed is labeled with the name of the farmer and their country of origin. Sharing of vegetables and recipes is the norm amongst this diverse group of gardeners. With growing demand from the community to participate, IRC had to look for additional space for gardens. Last year, a local church offered assistance by donating land just outside the city center. This space is known as Karesa Bari,or Kitchen Garden, and it has become a thriving community garden used mostly by Bhutanese refugees.

Last fall, ORR’s Division of Refugee Health visited some of the gardeners and their beds, along with Reuben Chandrasekar, the Executive Director of the IRC in Baltimore, and Karine Nankam and Mary Hathaway, members of IRC in Baltimore's health team. 

While visiting the Karsea Bari garden, ORR spoke with a few gardeners about the impact of the garden on their daily lives. Each mentioned that prior to the garden they had no reason to leave their homes. Buddhi Maya Gurung said that gardening allows her to escape painful memories of a tragedy that happened soon after resettlement. Gardening and meeting with friends provides a source of relief and comfort from her grief. When asked how being able to garden makes her feel, another gardener, Phool Maya Tamang says, "I am happy. I have fresh food that I could not get at the store. Now, I have so much fresh vegetables."

The gardens also provide a sense of purpose and pride. One of the greatest challenges refugees face after resettlement is finding ways to insert their skills and life experiences into a foreign context. The ability to provide food for their family and to come out of what is often an otherwise isolated existence has been life-changing for the people that ORR spoke with in Baltimore, and is something worth cultivating.

For Tax Time: Financial Empowerment Tools to Help Your Clients

With tax time fast approaching, now is a good time for resettlement agencies to take stock of the programs and relationships they have that can help their clients with financial matters. For example, does your organization have a relationship with a nearby Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program? The VITA program offers free tax help to people who generally make $53,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and limited English-speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals.

VITA programs can also help ensure your clients benefit from the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC reduces the amount of federal tax owed by those who qualify and claim the credit. It is also fully refundable, which means if the tax filer's EITC exceeds the amount of taxes owed, he/she gets the difference as a tax refund, even if the worker owes zero federal income tax. 

If your clients benefit from the EITC, it may also be a good time to talk to them about using any tax refund they receive to pay off debt or save for future goals. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently released a toolkit to help with these conversations. The Your Money, Your Goals toolkit is designed to help social service organizations talk to their clients about financial issues. On February 24 at 2 PM Eastern, ORR will host a webinar introducing the Your Money, Your Goals toolkit and describing scenarios where the tool could be used by resettlement agencies. Click here to register.

Tax time also presents an opportunity for identity thieves to prey on unsuspecting victims. Be prepared to help your clients: review the Federal Trade Commission’s resources on tax identity theft.

President Proclaims January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

Rescue & Restore campaign logoPresident Obama proclaimed January 2015 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, culminating in the annual celebration of National Freedom Day on February 1. In doing so he called “upon businesses, national and community organizations, families, and all Americans to recognize the vital role we can play in ending all forms of slavery and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities.”

ORR administers the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Program (ATIP). In 2014, the ORR/ATIP-funded National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) received over 27,000 phone calls, more than 21,500 of them related to trafficking. HHS also distributed free of charge approximately 800,000 pieces of original, branded public awareness materials publicizing the NHTRC.

For more information on upcoming webinars and events, please sign up for the Rescue & Restore listserv or visit the Rescue & Restore page on the ORR website.

DRH Webinars Highlight Important Refugee Health Issues

ORR’s Division of Refugee Health (DRH) recently facilitated webinars highlighting Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and emotional wellness in the resettlement context. Last fall, DRH hosted a webinar aimed at informing the refugee community about ASD, which occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Representatives from Minnesota's Department of Health—Barb Dalbec and Asli Ashkir—as well as parents from the Iraqi, Somali, and Latin American communities shared their experience and personal stories of supporting children with an ASD. The CDC estimates that 1 in 68 children in the US have been diagnosed with an ASD.

DRH also co-sponsored a webinar on emotional wellness with Lutheran Community Services Northwest (LCSNW) in mid-January. The presenters, Beth Farmer and Sasha Verbillis-Kolp from LCSNW’s Pathways to Wellness project, highlighted the Adjustment Support Group model. This model is designed to improve the well-being of refugees by offering psycho-social support in both clinical and non-clinical settings during their transition to the US. It also helps them develop the skills needed to self-manage their own health.

Contact DRH to receive a copy of the ASD presentation and download the Pathways to Wellness presentation. To request a copy of the Adjustment Support Group curriculum, send a Request for Materials form to LCSNW.

Also, be on the look-out for information about an upcoming webinar on assisting refugees in applying for the US citizenship disability exception (Form-648). This webinar will be held Wednesday, February 25 at 1 PM Eastern.

ORR Webpage Highlights Refugee Resettlement Events

ORR’s Events page highlights meetings, conferences, webinars and other events that may be of interest to resettlement stakeholders. Each edition of Connections will also feature upcoming events that may be of interest. Contact us to have your event included on the webpage.

Upcoming Events listed include:

  • Idaho Conference on Refugees (February 9-10)
  • Jacksonville Florida's 2015 Refugee Services Consultation (February 11-13)
  • National Conference on Ending Family & Youth Homelessness (February 19-20)
  • National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs' Annual Research Symposium (March 4)
Last Reviewed: March 28, 2018