By Guest Blogger Kristina DeVesty
When a refugee arrives in America, perhaps one of the most important people they will come in contact with is their Resettlement Case Worker. Asinate Vitusagavulu is a Reception and Placement Case Manager for LSS/NCA, and she explained just how much the organization does, and what is wishes it could do, for a family when they first arrive in the United States.
The goal of LSS/NCA is to provide enough core services to newly-arrived refugee families that they achieve a level of self-sufficiency within their first 90 days. Their goes beyond just job-hunting: case workers help families obtain affordable housing, arrange transportation, apply for benefits, enroll children in school, and find healthcare. LSS/NCA covers rent for the first three months, but then these families are on their own.
For the past few months, the office has seen nearly a new arrival every week. There is no such thing as a “typical day at the office.” “Essentially, our job is to help individuals and families with anything they need to assimilate and find success,” says Vitusagabulu. Case workers can be found waiting with their clients at the Social Security office, coaching them through a practice job interview, or assisting with immediate problems when a client just shows up at the office
According to Vitusagavulu, part of the work is recognizing the multi-faceted needs of new refugees and prioritizing which of those can be appropriately tackled by the office. As much as she, and the rest of the organization, wishes every need could be filled, there are certain elements that must take precedent.
“The hardest part,” she explains, “is recognizing the various needs a client has…and not being able to fully fix or provide for every single one of them.” For example, money management is one of the most complex issues facing a refugee family. Many new arrivals struggle to find quickly find jobs that pay well enough to cover their rent, and even if they do, there is a steep learning curve to managing a family budget that must also covers a host of new, unfamiliar expenses.
It’s a very humbling process for these families. “The majority of our clients are not like typical refugees. They have not been living in camps,” Vitusagavulu explains. “Many of the families who resettle in the capital area come on a Special Immigrant Visa because they assisted the United States military back in their country.”
These families come from very well-educated and upstanding backgrounds, and it is quite a shock for them when they realize where they will be living and the sorts of jobs available. “It’s very hard for them when they realize they have to start completely at the bottom,” she adds, noting how hard it can be to help a family process this and develop realistic goals and expectations. “They had a comfortable lifestyle and they come here and it’s completely different.” They miss their respected jobs and family homes, and of course are often dealing with both the trauma of the war they have seen and the shock of adjusting to a new life.
When asked what was the biggest “misconception” surrounding refugees, Vitusagavulu bristles at the notion that refugees come to to just live off of government benefits. “That’s simply not true,” she said. “Most of the individuals we work with are very motivated with a strong work ethic…they do not want to rely on benefits. They are very much focused on getting jobs that are relevant to their field…they want to chase after the American dream.”
Vitusagavulu also noted fear of radicalized and dangerous refugees. Not only are these refugees not adherents to radical forms of Islam, she explained, but they are here in America precisely because they did not support this belief system (and in fact worked with Americans on the ground). “They came here to escape it and the people who threatened their lives,” she said. “It is very important that people recognize that [refugees] want a better future for their family; they want safety and security, just like everyone else does.”
If you are interested in helping these families as they adjust to a new life, you can apply to become a Good Neighbor with the LSS/NCA. Good Neighbors help provide household goods and mentoring services to newly-settled families in the area. You do not have to be a “Good Neighbor” alone, though – churches and groups are encouraged to sign up in order to come alongside newly-arrived families as they face the monumental task of adjusting to life in an unfamiliar country.
Stay tuned to read the story of one refugee family that Asinate Vitusagavulu helped to resettle.