A Day in the Life of an Employment Counselor

What does it take to help individuals who recently arrived as refugees find their first jobs in Minnesota? To give you a better sense of what is involved on a day-to-day basis, we asked Refugee Services employment counselor Brittany Esau to take a few notes about some of the activities she does in an average week. As you can see, working with an individual on their employment goals is a holistic process that addresses many facets of a family’s life. -       Last week, I met with Karen family in their home to discuss employment. The husband came with a few ideas. His uncle works at a wholesale plant nursery that he knew was hiring. This week, we went to complete an application and he went through an interview. He answered the questions perfectly and was offered the job. Today I took him to complete a drug test and he will … Continue reading

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New Staff Profile: Briana Baker

Briana may be new to our staff, but she’s not a new face in the Refugee Services Mankato office. Briana has been volunteering in the office for a year, assisting where needed, and we’re excited to have her join our team as a part-time staff person. Briana provides administrative support to the staff of the Mankato office, greeting individuals in the lobby area, making sure that supplies are well-stocked, answering phones, and helping the office to run smoothly. Briana’s interest in involvement with Refugee Services Mankato began when she had some flexibility with her work schedule and wanted to make an explicit statement of her support for refugees. She noted that the current political climate was communicating a lack of welcome through policies and statements, both in blatant and more subtle ways. Volunteering with Refugee Services Mankato gave her a very tangible way to express her support for refugees. She … Continue reading

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New Staff Profile: Remona Htoo

When a new-comer to Minnesota feels overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to start, Remona can offer empathy and hope based on her own experience. She tells them, “I was in your shoes 11 years ago, and it will be okay.” Remona and her family came to Idaho as refugees when she was just 12 years old, and just three weeks ago, she moved to Minnesota herself. Remona is a new Case Aide with MCC Refugee Services, assisting case managers and other staff where needed with newly arriving families, particularly those from Burma. That might mean providing Karen language interpretation, bringing new arrivals to appointments, and helping to sort out documentation for families. It is a busy and vital role to helping new arrivals feel settled and welcome in their new home. A recent graduate of Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho, Remona obtained her degree in Social Work and hopes to … Continue reading

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A New Way to Move: Bike program partnership gives wheels to Somali youth

Riding bikes in the summertime has to be one of the most quintessential childhood experiences in Minnesota, and a new partnership between Refugee Services Mankato and Key City Bikes opened up that opportunity for Somali children in Mankato. Key City Bikes is a local non-profit with a variety of programs and a strong reputation in the community. Among other things, they are known as a donation site for used bikes, which they then fix and make available to community members. They also host an annual Earn-a-Bike project  (http://keycitybike.org/get/earn-a-bike/) where 14-20 year olds have the opportunity to learn about bike maintenance and earn their own bike and accessories at the completion of the program. When there were a few openings left for their spring session, Key City Bikes reached out to Refugee Services Mankato to see if any families we knew might be interested in participating. Community Navigator Jaffer Mohamud reached … Continue reading

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More than just a place to play

Recently-arrived Somali children dashed around the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota with excitement, finding new and imaginative exhibits to explore while their mothers found a much needed space to connect and build community in a new home. One of our program goals for new families in Mankato is the facilitation of sustainable social connections for refugees, and Mankato Refugee Services staff realized that the museum would be a wonderful resource for families with children. Our staff members Nancy Altmann and Habiba Rashid reached out to museum outreach staff to see if the museum would be open to scheduling special welcome events for refugee families and received an enthusiastic welcome. As museum Community Outreach and Impact Director Sue Larsen said, “The Children’s Museum is for all families. The board and founding mothers wanted the museum to be open and welcoming for all families and we want refugee families to know that … Continue reading

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New Staff Profile: Ahmed “Jaffer” Joins Mankato Team

MCC Refugee Services’ newest employee, Ahmed “Jaffer,” joined the Mankato team just two months ago. He brings a wealth of experience and a great sense of humor as he works to help those who came to our community as refugees find employment in Minnesota. I interviewed him to learn about what brought Jaffer to MCC Refugee Services and share the work he is doing in the Mankato area. Knowing that nicknames can offer insight into someone’s history, I asked Jaffer how he got his nickname. He explained that he grew up in Somalia and was given the name Jaffer by his parents. As a 2nd grader, he made the decision to change his own name to Ahmed, but he laughingly regrets the decision. He explained that Ahmed is such a common name in the Somali community, but Jaffer is unique. Regardless of the name change, he’s always been known as … Continue reading

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Volunteer Profile: Aleisha

Do you remember when news of the Syrian refugee crisis dominated the news a few years ago? Refugee Services volunteer Aleisha does. She had recently left her work with victims of domestic violence to stay home with her son and was looking for a way to make a difference in her corner of the world. The news about refugee families fleeing resonated deeply with her and she was determined to do something. Traveling overseas to help wasn’t a possibility for her, so Aleisha found a way to be involved locally through MCC Refugee Services. One of Aleisha’s first volunteer experiences was helping set up the apartment for a newly arriving family. She remembers the experience with a sense of awe. Even though she never met them, she still thinks about the grandmother and her two grandchildren who made that apartment home. Aleisha loved putting away dishes and making beds, knowing … Continue reading

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A Mother’s Nightmare

Imagine, if you can, what it was like for a mother separated from her children to hear the news of 3 refugee travel bans and the suspension of the family reunification process she was depending on. If you add to that scenario a case of terminal cancer, unbelievably complex paperwork complications, and multiple travel cancellations, you might begin to understand a bit of Zaraha’s life experience. In the violence of the Somali civil war, Zahara’s first husband was killed and she became separated from her children. In 2009, she left her children with their aunt to keep them safe and then had to travel to the US as a refugee alone. In the years that followed, Zahara remarried and applied for her children to join her. She was also diagnosed with terminal cancer. In August of 2017, 8 years after she became separated from her youngest children, she finally received … Continue reading

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Winter Tapestry Project: What Do Participants Have to Say?

When you move to a new country, there are so many things to learn and you find that there are things that you didn’t even know that you needed to know! MCC’s Tapestry Project aims to help new refugee and immigrant arrivals navigate some of this crucial learning process. This six-session series brings together recently-arrived refugees, immigrants, community resource providers, and welcoming volunteers to strengthen the community. You can read more about Tapestry here . Mary (from South Sudan) and Leticia (Mexico) were two of the participants in our most recent Tapestry session in Mankato, and they were kind enough to share a few thoughts about their experience. What was your favorite part of Tapestry? Leticia enjoyed the visit to the Public Safety Center because she learned about how to use a fire extinguisher. Mary also enjoyed that visit because she learned the laws about how old children must be … Continue reading

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Donor Profile: Mindy and Steve

We often share the stories of refugee families who we’ve welcomed, but we wanted to take an opportunity to share about a couple of the people who make our work possible—individual donors! Meet Mindy and Steve. Steve has worked in the financial services industry for 32 years and Mindy works at Lifetime Fitness. They have three young adult children and are longtime members of University Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Mindy recalls first becoming interested in refugees when her church co-sponsored a Karen refugee family through MCC Refugee Services in 2002. The family they befriended included a single mom and her 6 school age boys. The family arrived in August, and Mindy stepped in to help with a whirlwind of school registrations and orientation. Mindy recalls being awed by how well this family managed, diving right into their new life and she reflected that it gave her a different perspective on … Continue reading

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