Refugee Services team helps newcomers find and maintain employment

Posted by | Catholic Charities of Oregon

Those who flee oppression and violence arrive in the U.S. to find yet another dire situation. Catholic Charities’ Refugee Services department has developed resources to keep newcomers employed and housed.

Many of Catholic Charities’ refugee and asylee clients lost their jobs when the coronavirus arrived in the U.S. We’re almost six months into what appears will be a lengthy pandemic, and our newly resettled neighbors are still struggling to meet their basic needs.

Some households have some income through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), but it is not enough to cover their bills. Many of our clients have little
or no savings, and whatever they do have is not enough, either.

Virtual and remote communication have saved jobs for many of us. But lack of face-to-face communication and language barriers have significantly limited the types of jobs refugees can find, if they’re able to find any at all.

Public transportation also shut down or was limited early on in the pandemic. Refugees and asylees were bound to their homes, unable to find work or seek other assistance for themselves and their families.

Our Refugee Services program quickly responded with new and existing strategic partnerships with the Oregon Employment Department and Atrium Hospitality to help our clients hold on to the freedom and independence worked so hard to achieve.

Unemployment insurance through Oregon Employment Department

Through our partnership with the Oregon Employment Department, we continue to assist approximately 50 families every week in applying for unemployment insurance benefits. Our partnership with OED provides us access to a staff member in the Unemployment Insurance Division who is able to directly help us identify and resolve any issues with processing a claim. Case managers have regular weekly calls with OED staff, which have proven vital to helping families we serve pay their utilities and rent and put food on the table.

Atrium Hospitality provides jobs

Two years ago, Catholic Charities and Atrium Hospitality partnered to bridge the unemployment gap for refugees. Jaafar Jama, Refugee Employment Specialist at Catholic Charities, and Kimberly Reed, Executive Housekeeper at Atrium, piloted a program to provide jobs in the hospitality industry, which has supported many of
Catholic Charities’ refugee clients throughout the pandemic.

Despite initial cultural and language barriers, Catholic Charities and Atrium built a strong team to support refugees in their new lives, including ongoing professional training, shift scheduling, and translation services through Linguava Interpreters. So far, Atrium has hired thirteen Catholic Charities clients at Embassy Suites and its sister property Holiday Inn in Portland, Oregon. All clients became full-time staff and cross-trained within the housekeeping department. Some were promoted within their first year to advanced roles, and many earned merit-based bonuses. Beyond financial stability, the partnership between Catholic Charities and Atrium has fostered a family-like atmosphere and lasting friendships.

When the pandemic began, Atrium had to furlough most of its employees. Many Catholic Charities clients, however, continued to ask for available work. Within a few months and following strict health and safety policies, Atrium was able to bring back some of its staff on a part-time basis. Employees are slowly approaching full-time hours again.

“Overall, we have had and will continue to have great success with Catholic Charities clients. These clients have proven themselves to be hard working, respectful, great co-workers, and an absolute pleasure to work with. The effort they all put in to be an integral part of Atrium Hospitality has been personally and professionally rewarding to me.”

— Kimberly Reed, Executive Housekeeper
Atrium Hospitality

Both of those partnerships with Oregon Employment Department and Atrium Hospitality have proven effective and continue to gain momentum, but we still have a long way to go to ensure our clients’ futures.

Feeling inspired? Learn more about our Refugee Services program and how you can make a difference for our resettled brothers and sisters here.

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