What does it take to help someone move past the trauma and culture shock experienced by so many new arrivals? Agencies like Catholic Charities help refugees rebuild their lives and become participating members in our community through a myriad of services, ranging from case management to advocacy. Case Manager Supervisor Fowzia Abdulle has dedicated her career at Catholic Charities to making sure new arrivals are safe, supported, and empowered to rebuild new lives in the U.S.
What kind of support do most refugee families need to become self-sufficient? What does self-sufficiency look like?
The basic support most refugee families need relate to basic needs like shelter, food, energy, education, employment, and healthcare. With self-sufficiency, the client must be able to maintain sufficient income to meet those basic needs for themselves and their dependents with minimal financial assistance. English language classes are also very important for clients to begin communicating here right away.
How does Catholic Charities help new arrivals address the trauma they have experienced so they can build safe, stable lives for themselves and their families?
When a refugee family arrives and is working with Catholic Charities, the family’s case manager does a thorough assessment and encourages the family to talk about any mental health concerns or trauma they’re struggling with. That way, we can assess their mental health needs.
The case worker will often encourage the family to talk through this with a counselor. If the family agrees, the case manager will submit a referral to Catholic Charities Intercultural Counseling Center. The Preferred Communities program within refugee services is where we address more significant trauma histories and mental health issues. Wherever they are, we try to meet them with helpful psycho-social supports and resources.
What tends to be the hardest thing for new arrivals to adjust to after resettlement? How does Catholic Charities help them overcome it?
The hardest part for new arrivals to adjust to is typically the language gap and culture shock. We connect them with language classes on arrival, so they can begin learning right away. We also urge new arrivals to complete cultural orientation as soon as possible, which provides education on the new and sometimes challenging aspects of U.S. culture.
Last year, 86% of employable adults found work within 6 months of arrival. What were some of the biggest contributors to that figure? Is it largely due to self-determination, or are there specific services Catholic Charities provides to make it easier for new arrivals to find work? Is it both?
Our Match Grant provides an employment service coordinator, so there are established relationships with employers who are friendly to refugees. The employer understands the unique needs of our clients and are willing to work with them to build mutually beneficial partnerships. We also see a strong motivation and a resilience to begin a new life in the U.S., so the refugees that are part of the Match Grant are extremely motivated to build new, successful lives for themselves and their families.
It is generally accepted that refugees are huge economic contributors for the community. What are some of your favorite success stories about a client or family served by Catholic Charities? (we can change names if needed)
The answer to this question depends on who you ask. Factually, after a certain number of years, refugees are a benefit to our economy. Yet, when you have someone come to this country who is, for example, a doctor in their home country and are now having to take a job at a grocery store, it can impact their self-worth and belief of their value. It can be hard for this person to overlook the fact that they will never be a doctor in the U.S. unless they go back to college and start all over again.
It can take several years for refugees to integrate fully, but they are fearless. Some refugees were entrepreneurs in their country of origin and have the experience of owning a business in their own countries. It’s likely that someone like that will open another business in the U.S. and provide significant contribution towards the economy here.
In addition to the comprehensive services provided by case managers, Catholic Charities’ refugee clients enjoy fruitful partnerships with community organizations, employers, and volunteers as they transition into U.S. residents. Community organizations like Salem for Refugees work in coalition with community leaders, local businesses, and industry professionals to promote refugee causes and encourage local employers to work with new arrivals in areas like skill development and English-language learning. Volunteers with refugee services provide thousands of hours each year in service to new arrivals, helping with everything from tutoring to transportation to employment training. With support in all these areas – case management and support from community organizations, employers, and volunteers – refugees in our community are given every tool at our community’s disposal to build healthy, sustainable lives.