Category Archives: East African Community Services

Brie: Filling the Gap

It was the third time she came to visit me in my office.  At 5:30pm, I could see her smiling face through the window in my office door. 

“Are you busy?” she asked in heavily accented English.

Although I was, I surprised myself with: “Not really, come on in.”

 Amina* had been coming to me intermittently for the last few weeks to ask for advice on her job search and even for help applying to a position.  Despite the fact that she was applying to wash laundry at a hotel, I was stunned by her credentials and her tenacity.  Sitting at the computer, going through the endless application questionnaire, I learned that she was very entrepreneurial.  Already, in the decade she has been here, she had begun two businesses: a coffee shop and a food shop.  I shuddered at the prospect of owning my own business – and navigating American culture and its lumbering and inefficient systems of bureaucracy are almost innate to me.

 Amina, like so many other East African refugees, can speak enough English to get by, but is at a middle school level of reading and writing skills.  Hardly knowing how to use a keyboard, Word, email, or Google, she is ‘pre-literate’ in computer skills.  She is like many of the refugees who come to East African Community Service seeking help with a job application.  Often what that help looks like is an employee creating a resume, translating every question, navigating to the online application page, creating an account, and filling out one or more lengthy applications. 

 I am not the only person to take some time out of my work day to help a person apply to a job: everyone, including the Executive Director, has helped a few people with job searches.  Noticing this time-consuming trend, I started telling people I would put together an application workshop.  I put together the initial plans: I would recruit volunteer translators from the community, as well as a few volunteers skilled in internet navigation and Microsoft Word.  Excited about my idea, I brought it up to the Executive Director.  He looked at me thoughtfully, and said “if that’s what you want to do, you can do it.”

 Encouraged, I brought the idea up to a co-worker, and saw my plans come to a screeching halt.  She acknowledged the community need, but cautioned me that I was opening Pandora’s Box.  It boiled down to the fact that, if I were to host a resume workshop, I would suddenly have to accommodate an enormous onslaught of jobseekers.  I was told that news would spread so quickly, and I would become “The Job Person.” 

 And I know it’s true.  East African Community Services is located in the community center of a government-subsidized community housing complex.  Everyone is here because they need a job, or at least a steadier job.  As a small community based organization with employees who are already stretched thin, we cannot support a program with such high demand.   At least, not yet.   

 I am not giving up my hope to start an employment program.  I will be bringing it up to the board at the strategic planning workshop, I will be keeping an eye out for funding opportunities, I will be exploring creating an internship opportunity so as not be the sole manager, and I will be calling similar ethnic organizations to explore best practices for an employment program in the Rainier Valley.

 The moral of the story is that, in between organizational capacity and community need, there is always a gap.  It’s hard to know my exact role within that gap – and I think I will have a long career trying to find out just that.

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Brie: EACS Programs in Pictures

African Eagles -The African Eagles Project is a youth leadership program for local high school students.

African Eagles –
The African Eagles Project is a youth leadership program for local high school students.

 

After School Program -The After School Program provides homework help and tutoring for East African elementary and middle school students.

After School Program –
The After School Program provides homework help and tutoring for East African elementary and middle school students.

Citizenship & Naturalization - EACS provides citizenship classes and ESL tutoring to assist East African immigrants and refugees applying to become US citizens.

Citizenship & Naturalization –
EACS provides citizenship classes and ESL tutoring to assist East African immigrants and refugees applying to become US citizens.

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Brie: New Citizens!

EACS Citizenship Program

Today, I walked out of my office to the commotion of excited voices and words of congratulations and thanks.  The few members of our office were crowded around two very proud and well-dressed men, one of whom had a small American Flag tucked into his sport jacket.  In each of their hands was a crisp certificate that they excitedly showed me as we shook hands.  These two men were new United States citizens. 

The mundane question-and-answer sessions I’ve grown so accustomed to hearing came swimming back to me:

“…Name one war the United States fought in the 1800s.”

“…Name one thing that Benjamin Franklin is most famous for.”

“…Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?”

They finally made it!  One man only received citizenship on his third try after months of citizenship classes and over 100 hours of tutoring, after being laid off from his job and re-hired multiple times, and after months of worrying this familiar face of East African Community Services was finally a US citizen.  Both he and his friend were beaming, and so was I when I realized that EACS was the first place they went to show off their new citizenship status.

Being a citizen of the United States can mean so many things.  After the two men rode their high out of the office, a fellow shiny-eyed employee told me that the first man had been one of her favorite clients.  It had been his third try to obtain citizenship. He was having a hard time holding down his job without citizenship, and the stress had begun to wear on him.  As a citizen he would be able to get a steadier job, and he could vote (registering to vote was the first thing he did as a US citizen).  But perhaps most poignantly, he could now bring his wife from Ethiopia.  She had been waiting for him for years.

The weight many of our refugee and immigrant clients experience is heavier than most Americans can know.   But knowing that EACS plays such a fundamental role in helping them live happier, more successful lives is a source of hope.

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Introducing three new VISTAs!

Three new VISTAs have recently joined the Refugee Support Network! Here’s an introduction to who they are and what they’ll be doing during their year with the RSN.

Cordelia Revells

Education Services Coordinator

Jewish Family Service

As the Education Services Coordinator VISTA at Jewish Family Services, Cordelia Revells works to increase the scope of educational opportunities for JFS adults and youth.  Since graduating from Oberlin College in 2010, Cordelia has worked in various education settings that serve immigrant communities and at-risk youth, and she is excited to continue this work at JFS.  In her free time, Cordelia enjoys reading, running, and exploring new areas. 

Briana Robertori

Resource Development Coordinator

East African Community Services

Hi, my name is Brie Robertori, and I just relocated from the SF Bay Area to be an AmeriCorps VISTA with East African Community Services (EACS).  After studying Anthropology and International Development as an undergraduate at the University of CA, Berkeley, I have been looking forward to the opportunity to work with international populations, and specifically underserved immigrants living in the US.  With this goal in mind, I’m excited to begin my position as Resource Development Coordinator at East African Community Services, an organization that provides social services and educational programming to East African refugees.  Since EACS’s inception in 2001, the organization has been evolving to fit the needs of its population.  Because navigating the American public school system poses one of the biggest challenges to our population, we have begun providing academic and mentorship programs to refugee youth. 

Working in this small but dynamic community based organization, I often get the question “Resource Development Coordinator . . . what does that mean?”  At the most basic level, it means that I am applying for grants with government, private, and corporate funders and cultivating relationships with funding sources.  Luckily for me, my job is so much more than just that.  I am also working with the Executive Director and Program Director to create EACS’ strategic funding plan.  In order to get to know the organization, my days are full of meetings with community based organizations, school administration, and state employees; self-directed grant research and professional development; and welcomed time away from the computer with the sweet and incredibly out-going kids from the community. 

Although the position will be challenging, I am excited for this opportunity to get to know EACS and the East African refugee population, and I know this year will be a profoundly rewarding one.

Siobhan Whalen

Youth Programs Coordinator

Coalition for Refugees from Burma

As the new VISTA Youth Programs Coordinator at the Coalition for Refugees from Burma, Siobhan Whalen will work with the Education Programs Manager to develop and expand youth programs such as parent workshops, cultural competency trainings for school faculty, and student mentoring programs. She will also be supervising CRB volunteers to support their work with the Burmese community.  By working with the talented staff at CRB, Siobhan hopes to make a valuable contribution to her localized international community.

Siobhan graduated from the University of New Hampshire with dual degrees in Anthropology and Sociology. While completing her undergraduate degrees she studied abroad in Rajasthan, India for four months with a program that emphasized social justice and development. Since graduating in 2010, Siobhan has been developing her communication and problem solving skills in the workforce, moving to a new city (Seattle, WA), and in her free time sewing and making arts and crafts. She is extremely excited and motivated to have a positive learning experience in this year of service.

Coalition for Refugees from Burma http://www.allburmarefugees.org/

Siobhan will be serving with the RSN’s newest partner organization, the Coalition for Refugees from Burma. The Coalition for Refugees from Burma (CRB) has been helping refugees from Burma since 2006. Established as a Mutual Assistance Association and registered 501c(3) in 2009, CRB’s goal is to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate social support services to improve the living conditions and quality of life of resettled refugees. CRB intentionally reaches across ethnic, religious and language barriers to foster community cohesion and build capacity.

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John: Forming Alliances

This quarter, I was able to help organize a group of more than 13 African-based agencies into an alliance to work together to improve the capacity of their individual organizations. Currently, these organizations collaborate through a series of workshops aimed at teaching African residents of King County the importance of being involved in civic institutions (e.g. their local PTA or Neighborhood Watch groups) and participating in public activities that support community development (e.g. neighborhood clean-ups  and community forums). After one of our more recent planning meetings, an Executive Director of one of the organizations told me that this collaborative effort would never have occurred without my assistance and that my work made him want to encourage college graduates from his community to become AmeriCorps VISTA members.

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John

John Argerious

Resource Development Coordinator

East African Community Services

John joined AmeriCorps VISTA in July 2012 and is working as the Resource Development Coordinator for East African Community Services (EACS). At EACS John is working to improve the sustainability and capacity of the organization by coordinating projects, writing grants, and creating partnerships with other organizations and agencies. Some of his current projects include building an African business association, coordinating a senior needs assessment, organizing health and nutrition workshops, and much more. John has a Master’s of Public and International Affairs focusing in Human Security from the University of Pittsburgh.

East African Community Services  http://www.eastafricancs.org/

East African Community Services (EACS) was established in 2000 to provide culturally specific advocacy, information, referral and direct social services to Somali, Oromo, Ethiopian and other East African refugees living in King County. When civil war erupted in Somalia in 1991, many people fled away from the violence. Today, nearly 30,000 East African refugees have made King County their home. East African Community Services provides a variety of services to members of the East African community in south Seattle, including, but not limited to: homework help and after-school tutoring for children in Primary, Middle and High-School; ESL, Citizenship and Computer Literacy classes for Adults; Case Management and Interpretation/Translation services.

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