A wonderful article on the important work of the Refugee Employment Partnership
See full article here or read below.
Normally, volunteers at the Refugee Employment Partnership — an Upper West Side organization that offers one-on-one mentorship to refugees and asylum-seekers in search of jobs in the city and beyond — aim to set clients up with work that will last or lead to even greater opportunities.
But last year, COVID-19 turned the employment landscape upside down.
“We did a census of our clients that we had placed,” REP’s Founder and Executive Director, Richard Fields, explained, “and, you know, discovered that approximately half of our group either had lost their jobs or were at significant risk of losing their jobs. And all of our people, like most of us, frankly, were scared and disoriented.”
Now, REP volunteers have returned more to business as usual, concentrating primarily on finding work for new, incoming refugees. But the pandemic momentarily reshaped the group’s mission, prompting a focus in 2020 on extra aid in the form of helping refugees secure unemployment benefits and more — and on strengthening partnerships with past clients along the way. Though it was an unusually difficult year for many in the city, refugees have been particularly vulnerable to pandemic-related stress.
Founded in 2017, REP has grown from a collaborative effort between members of synagogue B’nai Jeshurun and Rutgers Presbyterian Church; the organization is non-denominational, but receives financial support from both religious congregations.
The group takes on clients — all of whom are legally able to work in the U.S. after fleeing their home countries due to discrimination, conflict or other threats — referred by resettlement agencies, according to REP Program Administrator David Coleman, the group’s sole employee since 2018. Over a dozen REP volunteers with experience working in hiring positions or as recruiters mentor refugees to help them adjust their resumes, identify suitable jobs and prepare for interviews with prospective employers.
REP has found work for refugees and asylees from nearly 40 countries — many hail from Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. They’ve sought protection in the U.S. for a variety of reasons, including persecution based on gender or sexual orientation, political alignment, religious beliefs and more.
In the few years since its start, REP had been steadily increasing its client load; the group placed 10 people in jobs during its first year, 19 people in jobs in 2018 and 30 in 2019.
“REP Never Gave Up”
Once the pandemic had taken hold over the city, though, REP volunteers had to reimagine their role in assisting the refugee community. “Our mission shifted a bit from this hyper focus on employment,” Coleman explained, “to a broad bundle of social services.”
Still, the group placed 19 refugees — many of whom REP volunteers had worked with before — in jobs over the span of 2020. Fields explained that REP’s clients commonly find employment as apartment building workers, take jobs with software companies or fill positions that require bookkeeping and accounting skills.
Working in “essential industries” during the pandemic is one factor that could heighten refugees’ likelihood of contracting COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Due to social and economic conditions,” information from the CDC reads, “resettled refugees face many of the same challenges that lead to poorer health for some racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States.”
Beyond REP clients’ susceptibility to job loss over the past year, Fields suspects that refugees also may have been disadvantaged by not having had the same support systems — like family or friends to whom they could turn — as more established New Yorkers.
One recent REP client, a refugee from Sri Lanka who requested anonymity for their safety and privacy, first found work in the U.S. as a concierge with help from the group’s volunteers at the end of 2019. In the spring of 2020, they were laid off amid worsening COVID-19 conditions and once again began searching for a job with REP’s assistance.
A year passed before they were employed as a case assistant caring for elderly communities at a nonprofit organization this spring, a job which more closely aligns with their professional background before seeking asylum in the U.S. In the interim, REP helped this refugee apply for unemployment benefits, connected them with a loan and provided them with a laptop. “REP never gave up helping me,” the client said.
Staying In Touch
Even before the pandemic, REP volunteers would stay in touch with past clients. Ahmed, an asylee from Turkey who initially found work as a digital analytics researcher with REP’s assistance in 2019, shortly after he’d fled his home country in the wake of an attempted coup, explained that the group has supported him “every step of the way.”
Ahmed, who requested that he be identified only by his first name, now works as a financial analyst, a job which REP helped him land at the outset of 2020, before COVID-19 overtook the city. He was joined by his wife and two daughters this spring, a reunion which REP would have celebrated under more normal circumstances.
“Had it not been for COVID,” Coleman said, “I would have probably gone out to the airport, just to be there and see that, because it’s a lovely thing.”
REP is still operating over Zoom, but 2021 is off to a promising start—already, the group has found work for 11 refugees and counting.
TAKING ACTION TO STOP ANTI-ASIAN/AMERICAN HARASSMENT AND XENOPHOBIA
Christine Gorman represented the church, the West 55th Street Block Association and the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Coalition at a press conference on March 30 where Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and others called for action against violent attacks on Asians and Asian Americans. Nancy Muirhead recommends an interactive bystander training offered by Hollaback!, adapted for anti-Asian and Asian American racism and xenophobia. The one hour Zoom workshop is free and offered on several days and times. More information and registration is available here. https://www.ihollaback.org/bystanderintervention/
How A Team of Women Helped to Bring a Syrian Refugee's Cookbook to Life
The making of a best-selling cookbook by Mayada, a Syrian refugee whose family is co-sponsored by our church, is told in this story published yesterday in O, The Oprah Magazine.
A New Website for the Rutgers Community
We're proud to unveil Rutgers' new website. You can now join us for our worship service every Sunday at 11 am from the safety of your home. You’ll find information on meetings and activities in the News and Events sections of this website.
This new website was prepared before the pandemic; the photos and videos here are a reminder of the joy we experience when we are together. We hope you will experience the same sense of warm community from our online events, and we look forward to being together again when it is safe to do so.
Podcast: The Bible As Political Prop
Peter Rinaldi and Pastor Andrew Stehlik talk about the recent Trumpian travesty (abuse of the Bible) and why theologians are so offended.
Rutgers Presbyterian Church Condemns Police Killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Murder of Ahmaud Arbery
Rutgers Presbyterian Church joins with those across the United States and the world in condemning the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as the murder of Ahmaud Arbery by white vigilantes in Brunswick, Georgia.
These tragic deaths, like countless others before them, are the consequence of racist systems, forged throughout our long national history of racial violence and terror. In this system, twin evils of epidemic police violence and infectious Covid pandemic claim a vastly disproportionate number of Black lives.
We confess that we have too often been silent as systemic racism has claimed the lives and livelihoods of our Black sisters and brothers. We have too often acted as if their lives did not matter. And so, we stand in solidarity with those calling for justice for George, Breonna, Ahmaud, and the many others who have been robbed of life.
As the fires of rebellion and righteous indignation burn in our city and across the nation, we remember the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who observed that “riot is the language of the unheard.”
As people of faith and Christian members of a Peace Church, we condemn police violence and all forms of racial terror, and we recommit ourselves to transformative justice and the creation of a city, nation, and world free of racism and violence.
Adopted by the Session on the 30th of May 2020
New York Times: The Church Where Believing in God Isn't Strictly Necessary
In this profile of Rutgers, The New York Times highlights its activism and social justice efforts. Pastor Andrew discusses Rutgers' inclusivity, saying, "People who otherwise feel marginalized or pushed out by regular congregations, more thoughtful people, say, or those who like to ask questions about faith, started to gather around our congregation."
Welcoming Two New Refugee Families
Our New Americans Committee and friends welcomed two new families from Afghanistan.
The Sadat Family arrived on February 8 and the Amiris on February 22. Both families are working very hard to get acclimated to their new life in America, thanks to the numerous volunteers who have helped in many ways.
The Khojas are thriving; the younger girls are doing well in school; the 4 adult kids are working and studying; and the parents are learning English.
A special thanks to the volunteers who are tutoring Hadreen, Narin, and Abdulla and helping Suzan with her writing.
Finally, the Abdulhamids, the first family from Syria we began to help are also doing well. The boys are busy in school; Ahmad is working; and Mayada has recently obtained her driving license. A book with her recipes and stories will be published in September; more info can be found at www.breadandsaltbetweenus.org.
New York Times: For Volunteers in New York, a Tumultuous Wait for a Refugee Family
The New York Times reported on the Khoja Family’s harrowing journey to the United States and Rutgers’ support of their resettlement, amid the executive order banning Syrian refugees from entering the country. Rutgers volunteers continued to prepare the apartment for the Khojas’ arrival, as the travel ban upended the Khojas’ travel plans. Eventually, about 50 volunteers greeted the Khojas as they arrived at JFK Airport in New York.