New Staff Profile: Miriam

Miriam’s varied life experiences have come together in a unique way to equip her for her new role as a Refugee Employment Counselor with MCC Refugee Services. Miriam was raised in a Mennonite family who valued hospitality and making room for outsiders, and that has deeply shaped her interests and values. As a student at Macalester College, Miriam studied psychology with a focus on culture, identity, social justice, and access. She’s also a multi-disciplinary artist who enjoys singing, songwriting, pottery, and line drawing. Following her degree at Macalester, Miriam worked in the non-profit community arts world in several roles—as a teaching artist and in outreach helping artists from marginalized populations find a foothold in the arts world. When Miriam saw the opportunity to work with refugees through employment coaching, she saw the opportunity to bring together her past experiences in helping people find their voice and place in the community … Continue reading

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A Big Problem in a Small Community: Payday lending debt in Mankato

MCC Refugee Services in Mankato recently agreed to partner with an initiative of the Minneapolis Synod ELCA working to combat predatory payday lending in Minnesota communities. Payday loans are small loans, usually less than $500, that charge a high interest rate and must be repaid in full by the next paycheck. Families without financial margins can become easily entrapped in a devastating cycle of payday loans. Blue Earth County has the 3rd highest rate of payday loans per capita in Minnesota and the statistics are staggering. For example, in 2018 there were: -          7,045 payday loans in Mankato taken out by -          725 individual borrowers. -          The average loan amount was about $400, but the total amount in loans was over -          3 million dollars! To reiterate, 725 people took out over $3,000,000 in loans in one year, with average loan amounts of $400. Lenders charge a fee for each … Continue reading

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New Staff Profile: Ta Porar

Ta may be one of the newest faces in the MCC Refugee Services office, but she’s not really new to Refugee Services. She started earlier this year working in partnership with MCC Refugee Services at North End Neighborhood Association (NENO), where she focused on reaching out to Karen-speaking families in need of support. Now, she has transferred to a Case Aide position based at the MCC Refugee Services office. Ta came to the US through the refugee resettlement program when she was just 9 years old. After living in a Thai refugee camp, Ta traveled to Texas with her parents and siblings. After a few years, they moved to St. Paul and made their home in Minnesota. She and her family just reached the 10th anniversary of their arrival in the United States! Ta has always had an interest in working with refugees, having experienced being a refugee herself. Before … Continue reading

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Sisters Making a Difference

Members of the Delta Phi Omega Chapter in the Twin Cities made a generous donation of grocery gift cards for particularly vulnerable families who arrived with refugee status this year. These gift cards provided tangible support and the encouragement of welcome to each of these families. But how did the sisters in this chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha come to make the donation? Every donation has a story, a point where the donors heard about refugees and decided to take action. We wanted to share a bit of that story with you, as told by their president, Mary Dedeaux-Swinton. “Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. is an international organization of nearly 300,000 members in over a thousand chapters and we currently have five program targets.  One of our targets is Global Impact.  As a bullet point under that target, we have a Refugees in America Assistance Program.  We started our current … Continue reading

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New Staff Profile: Jami Flesner

Jami joins the MCC Refugee Services team in a newly-created role coordinating cultural orientation classes for new refugees arriving in the Twin Cities. As part of a new consortium approach through the Minnesota Refugee Programs Office, we will be coordinating with the International Institute of Minnesota and the Twin Cities YMCA to offer orientation to a broader group of new families than before. Jami will be working closely with the instructor for these new courses who is based at the International Institute. We also plan to offer new, advanced classes for people who have been in Minnesota for a longer period of time and are ready to learn about topics like home buying, tax preparation, and more. Jami comes to us having worked with refugees in her home state, South Dakota. While working with a resettlement agency there, she worked as a teacher and then a case manager.  During college, … Continue reading

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Will Your Faith Community Make Room?

The name of the innkeeper who made room in his stable for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus doesn’t appear in the Bible, but I bet that Mary and Joseph never forgot, and that he never forgot the miracle that occurred that night in his barn. And what about all of the other innkeepers in town? Do you think they regretted their decision to close the door? Simple acts of welcome are powerful for both the host and the guest, and we see this play out today with every co-sponsoring church and refugee family they welcome. Like many of the best experiences, co-sponsorship takes effort, time, and resources, but it is a powerful, transformative experience for everyone involved. We have found that strong church communities are the best networks to support especially vulnerable families who arrive with refugee status. A church family always creates access to a wide network of resources– donated … Continue reading

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Welcome a Family with Refugee Status, Welcome Christ

We all know the familiar story of Christmas–Mary and Joseph, wandering from inn to inn on the verge of giving birth, finding every door barred to them. Every door closed to the Messiah, the Son of God, who would later say “when you welcomed the stranger, you welcomed me.” It’s hard to miss the irony in the fact that the deadline for governors and county officials to submit their letters of welcome, or by default close the door to refugee resettlement in their community, falls at Christmastime. By giving states and counties the ability to discriminate against refugees building new lives in the United States, this order will further separate families, damage the resettlement infrastructure, and increase division in the United States. Governor Walz has submitted his letter of consent to resettle refugees in Minnesota, and Kandiyohi and Olmstead Counties have also submitted letters of consent. If you live in … Continue reading

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Welcoming Our 2019-20 Social Work Interns!

Each year, we have the opportunity to host Social Work interns from local universities, sometimes at the Bachelor’s level, and sometimes at the Master’s level. This year, we are hosting both and are excited to share with them the reality of daily work with families who came to Minnesota with refugee status, and to have their help and support in this work. This year, we asked each intern to introduce themselves, so without further ado, meet: Erin: I am doing an internship for a Master’s in Social Work at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. My concentration is in Clinical Mental Health and I am interested in mental health issues that arise for refugee and immigrant populations as well as psychotherapy for severe and persistent mental illnesses. At the Minnesota Council of Churches Refugee Services, I am learning about case notes and files, doing some of the basic tasks associated … Continue reading

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New Staff Profile: Brian Ombongi

Brian, MCC’s new Health Case Manager, joins the Refugee Services team with a wide variety of experience.  In addition to being a nurse, he has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and recently graduated with a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from the Humphrey Institute. He describes himself as an “old soul” because of his love for music from the 1970s and 80s and old architecture. Since childhood, he’s dreamed of traveling to Cuba and would love to see the classic architecture and cars there. After completing high school in Kenya, Brian immigrated to the United States and made a home here in Minnesota. He first pursued a LPN nursing degree and then worked as a nurse through his college and graduate school years studying politics and public policy. While he was a student, he interned with Give Us Wings, a non-profit that serves communities in Uganda and Kenya, and … Continue reading

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New Staff Profile: Emily Linder

Moving to the Twin Cities to accept a Lutheran Volunteer Corps position at MCC Refugee Services represents a kind of homecoming for Emily, who grew up outside St. Paul before heading to Luther College in Iowa. While a student, Emily pursued a double major in Anthropology and Nordic Studies program, and studied abroad in both Norway and Tanzania. Following graduation, Emily decided to complete a year of volunteer service, hoping to explore the realm of non-profit work before deciding if she would like to pursue a career in non-profits, or return to school for a graduate degree in anthropology. She decided to apply for the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, and MCC Refugee Services was her clear first choice for a placement and she is excited to work with people from a variety of cultural backgrounds in a positive way. In her LVC position at MCC, Emily has the opportunity to work … Continue reading

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