Monthly Archives: August 2015

Rebecca Craig – JFS Employment Services Coordinator


According a Brookings Institute analysis of the most recent census data, 30% of working-age immigrants have at least a bachelor degree. This is a significant jump from the 19% of highly educated immigrants in 1980. While this statistic is a snapshot of all immigrants in the US, the trend is also reflective of refugee populations in the Puget Sound region, especially since the US started resettling refugees from Iraq. It is likely that we will continue to see this trend as we start resettling more refugees from Syria in the coming years as well. Yet, most refugee resettlement agencies have had difficulty finding the advancement opportunities that these highly educated individuals seek. The reason for this is that most agencies are structured and funded to find entry-level employment opportunities quickly. This is where capacity building becomes important.

As an AmeriCorps Vista I have been working with Jewish Family Service in order to build their capacity to meet the specific needs of refugee professionals. JFS had been dreaming about creating Tatweer – a mentor program for highly skilled refugees – for over a year before I came on-board. The groundwork had been laid, but designing a program to build around mentorship was a challenge all its own. The first step was a needs assessment. I facilitated one-on-one interviews and small focus groups with over a dozen highly skilled refugees and asked them a series of questions.

How difficult has it been for you to find work?

What services do you wish were available to you?

What do you feel are the biggest barriers to reentering your field of expertise?

What I learned from these meetings helped me to design Tatweer in a way that addressed their main concerns.

Building Tatweer from the ground up has been an exhilarating process. With each step the focus has had to shift from one outcome to the next and each moving target comes with its own unique challenges. For instance, the initial program design, participant recruiting, and curriculum development phase, begot the new process of program implementation and two long months of mentor recruiting. On top of all this there are constant behind the scenes tasks like the creation and upkeep of tracking systems, copy writing for and design of flyers and websites, and building connections within the community. I bet you can gather from this list that I am slowly becoming an expert juggler. Throughout this process I have learned that collaboration and relationship building are key to getting anything done.

Today the Tatweer program is serving our first cohort of 10 clients with professional backgrounds in mechanical engineering, civil engineering, dentistry public relations, human resources, business administration and IT. Each field has its own barriers to entry and each participant a personal guide to industry integration in the form of a mentor. Participants are working on building their professional tools like resume, LinkedIn profiles, and cover letters. They are also working on expanding their professional networks with the help of their mentors. The Tatweer program is just about half way through the pilot round and our goal is to provide participants with the tools to start rebuilding their professional careers by the time they have completed the program in December.



Kelli Schlegelmilch – CRB Youth Program Coordinator


My passion for working with refugees first developed in Portland, Oregon where I volunteered for two years as a Youth & Family Mentor with a Karen refugee family. I will be forever grateful for my experience with this family, as their spirit and resiliency inspired me to want to make a career out of assisting newly-arrived refugees.

As a way to begin exploring this new career path, I joined Coalition for Refugees from Burma as a VISTA in November 2014. As Youth Program Coordinator, I assist with most aspects of the organization’s Youth Programs for refugee youth – including volunteer recruitment, outreach, resource development, and program facilitation.

Most recently, I developed a large portion of the curriculum for CRB’s 5-week summer program for high school-aged refugee participants. Each of the five weeks was designed to identify a global challenge and explore ways students can work toward solving the challenge. The 47 student participants represented a large variety of cultural backgrounds, ages (grades 9-12), and English levels. This variety adds a wonderful array of diversity to the classroom, yet poses a challenge in developing curriculum that can sufficiently reach out to all participants. There is a constant need to find a balance in creating material that isn’t too difficult for the lower English-level students, yet challenges the higher-level students.

During the third week of the program, I gathered my notes after seeing what had and had not worked in the first two weeks to create a week of lessons, activities, and discussions based on environmental challenges. Students were exposed to two major environmental challenges (loss of biodiversity and pollution), and within the lesson learned a variety of vocabulary words to strengthen their understanding of the content.

After identifying various environmental challenges, students worked together to build models of parks that were eco-friendly and reflected the needs of their community. Emphasis was put on using recycled materials and sustainable design, while students also had to interview a community member to see what he or she most desired in a local park. The project offered an effective hands-on way for all students to synthesize the new content and vocabulary, and the results were extremely creative!

The week, and the entire summer program, was a huge success and proved that I am learning just as much as these students during my year as a VISTA. I have been able to build upon my previous international and cross-cultural experiences to further develop and fine-tune skills that will help me as I continue to pursue opportunities for assisting refugees. I look forward to what the remaining months as a VISTA, and the path beyond, have to offer!

Kelli in classroom