The United States over the years has become a great place for refugees to resettle to and call home. Our country welcomes them with wide-open arms in hope that they find safety and comfort here. The goal of the United States is to assist as many people are possible with the resources we have available to us.
Of the 10 countries that carry out resettlement programs, the United States accepts more than double the number of refugees accepted by the other nine countries combined, resettling approximately 2.5 million people since 1975.
Though comprising only 10 percent of annual immigration to the United States, refugees are a district component of the foreign-born populations in many U.S. metropolitan areas.
Prior descriptions of refugee’s settlement patterns have been based on widely available state-level data. This is the first report on U.S. metropolitan destinations, where the vast majority of refugees were resettled between 1983 and 2004.
Locally, the Multicultural Community Recourse Center in Erie has a refugee support branch to help refugees that have been in America for less than five years. Its mission is the help break down the cultural barriers due to language, appearance, or ethnic traditions. It actively promotes and advocates the development, empowerment, and advancement of all people while preserving their cultural identity.
Ana Frank, the secretary of Edinboro University’s Department of Journalism and PR, worked as a caseworker at the Multicultural Center for approximately two years. As a caseworker her job was to find jobs for refugees at different locations throughout Erie.
“We helped everyone who was referred to us at our center,” Frank said. “We would start a file and see what their qualifications were, such as education and language, and match them with an appropriate job. I had contracts with different agencies around Erie. I would set up their appointments for them to meet with their potential future employers. I would do follow up appointments if they were hired with the company and my client to make sure the job was working out for the both of them. If they had language barriers, I would refer them to our language services within the center. It was basically a place to go for refugees who were new to the area and needed help adjusting to Erie.”
The MCRC began as The Hispanic American Council in April 1975. The Council was first located at the Spanish Apostolate, an Erie Diocesan Mission Office at 611 West 17thStreet. The Council started with no administrative funds and operated with volunteers and two paid staff. In September of 2009, the organization’s name was changed to the Multicultural Community Resource Center to more accurately reflect the diverse and ever-increasing population served. Today the Multicultural Community Resource Center employs more than 50 individuals and is located in the old Penn Schoolhouse at 554 East 10th Street in Erie. Since the building was erected in 1880, it is gradually being refurbished to its original architectural prominence as a center of learning in Erie.
Anna Tischenko, the director of refugee special services, supervises case workers, she coordinates refugee services to make sure goals are meet at the end of the year, plans events, and monitors full and part time staff.
First and foremost it is important to know that the Multicultural Center does not meet with the refugees the first five minutes they are in our country.
“The International Institute and Catholic Charities of Erie work with refugees the first six months and then all clients get transferred to us,” Tischenko said, “and we work with refugees for up to five years. We work very closely with both government agencies. We actually fund a part time position at International Institute so we’re giving them some amount of money to help get families transferred to us so no one is behind when they come to our services.”
Families can come to get their services on their own, but according to Tischenko she keeps a list of all arrivals that she updates every month. This mostly occurs if a family moves from another state to Pennsylvania. They are welcome at the Multicultural Center as long as they have verification they are refugees and are eligible for their services.
“We have a meet assessment that once they get all the paperwork completed by our intake person then according to the language they speak I would give those documents to case manager and the case manager will contact the family for orientation and services assessments, some of the families might not need all the services but in many cases they would like our services to get help,” Tischenko added.
The Multicultural Community Resource Center provides a variety of educational and employment programs and services to the immigrant and refugee populations in Erie in a customer focused manner. The service needs of the clients are of prime importance. All services promote client self-sufficiency and improved economic, physical and/or social wellbeing.
“The goal is to help clients to be self sufficient and by self sufficiency we mean stable employment, we help them learn English, we do case management services we have life skill classes, these are all services that are funded by Refugee Social Services. In addition to this our agency has day care, integration and interpretation departments, we have ESL classes, all the services are needed and they all help the families to teach self sufficiency,” Tischenko said.
The comprehensive job development program at John E. Horan Garden Apartments Learning Center is a designed to assist residents of the Horan Garden apartments and Bird Drive apartments to develop the skills and resources needed to secure adequate employment and assist residents with actual placement in employment positions.
Each participant completes an assessment that reviews his/her current life situation, resources currently in his/her life, and the goals and aspirations that are important to the program participant, to help develop a plan or roadmap to assist the participant in achieving his/her goal.
“The main goal is employment, but we need to help them with transportation, English classes, and day care,” Tischenko said. “Not all the families are ready to go to work until after 3-6 months sometimes. We try according to the needs of the clients and their availability, but usually they work in plastic shops or metal shops because they can provide transportation and they are used to working with refugees.”
As for classes, there are basic adult education assessments and classes designed to help the individual complete his/her secondary education to help them get their GED. There are also ESL classes designed to assist participants with improving their basic English language, verbal and comprehension skills. Along with adult tutoring and college preparation classes.
There are also classes to help with applying for citizenship, Tischenko explained. “The immigration office helps our clients apply for their green cards and to apply for citizenship. After they become citizens they can bring their parents or they can bring their fiancés. It’s a very difficult process and you can’t apply on your own without being able to read and all the guidelines. We represent them at immigration so if they have any issues the application the immigration office will contact us and we will explain the application in their own language.”
The Multicultural Community Resource Center has a wide array of help and assistance for anyone relatively new to the area. Resettling is a difficult thing for families, especially when they are forced to leave the country and start their entire lives over. Refugees that are guided the right way will in turn have an overall better experience and live better lives, which is exactly what the Center hopes to ensure.