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The Answer Is "Yes"

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“Do you still work with the refugees?”  

This question is often asked by individuals remembering the large numbers of refugees who were formerly at SBEC.  With changes in policy toward refugees in the US the past four years their presence and participation has been greatly diminished.  Important work, however, continues. 

Saint Benedict’s Workforce Readiness Specialist (WRS), Taha Najem, focuses on addressing the needs of refugees in EARN (Employment Advancement and Retention Network), which SBEC operates for the PA Department of Human Services.  Currently, he is working with a few clients from Iraq and Somalia.  At times, he partners with Mary Lou McCall, another WRS, to help address job skills needs of these refugees.

In addition, Taha works with clients in the Refugee Social Services Program, administered by Erie’s Multicultural Community Resource Center (MCRC), through a subcontracted arrangement.  Taha offers case management and translation assistance.  This collaboration between SBEC and MCRC enables Taha to address the needs of more refugees in the area.

What is the work of a Workforce Readiness Specialist, case manager and translator such as Taha?  A partial listing of recent activities offers one type of response.  He has helped families/individuals:  apply for unemployment compensation; deal with paperwork in applying for housing; communicate with the Housing Authority about safety issues; and coordinate with the welfare office concerning benefits.  Taha has assisted individuals in getting jobs at which they can succeed, and which will support their families.  He has helped work through the process and understand the paperwork involved in the purchase of a house.  These tasks can be daunting for anyone; they are much more complex and even frightening for someone unfamiliar with the culture and the language. 
 
Taha often helps explain and resolve truancy cases with students and their families, clarifies and settles social security questions, and deals with banking issues.  In times of emergency, Taha goes out to them in their immediate need. 

Programs like those offered at SBEC and MCRC offer practical assistance, encouragement and support that can be trusted.  Taha Najem embodies this.

Taha came to Erie in 2009 from Iraq, where he taught high school English and, from 2003-2009, was also an Arabic Linguist for the US Army in Iraq.  He was hired at SBEC from the EARN Program in 2010.  Having a family himself, with four children, and needing to find authentic and satisfying ways to be part of a very different culture, Taha understands well the transitioning process his clients experience.  
    
Will the number of refugees SBEC assists increase?  Some people think they will.  No one really knows.  It is a complex question, with no quick and certain answer.  Separate from increasing numbers, the presence of refugees may already be having a significant influence.

Farmer and food justice activist Karen Washington has raised questions about an expression we often hear in Erie: “food desert.”  She observes that this is an “outsider term.”  People in the neighborhoods described often respond that they do have food.  Washington also speaks of the image “desert” offers:  An empty, desolate place.  In fact, these same neighborhoods are often full of life, vibrancy, and potential.  

Washington speaks about the need for the people in the neighborhoods to be provided capital and financial literacy rather than outsiders merely bringing in a supermarket.  Teach them how to:  invest; own homes; and own businesses.

Walk the city streets of Erie.  Notice the number of small markets opening to meet the tastes and needs of the New Americans.  It seems like a new one opens each day.  Don’t miss the restaurants that are emerging.

Is this organic evolution and development of neighborhood businesses what is being described, at least in part, by Karen Washington?  Is this what she has in mind if the needs of people are to be addressed – by their own work?    You may find Washington’s ideas interesting.

In reviewing the work of Taha Najem and SBEC with refugees you may ask:  Are they assisting not only individuals and families but also a city in the organic process of growth and development?  Perhaps.  

May the work continue -- the success be true – and SBEC be part of this evolution.

  

    

 

            
 

Taha Najem - SBEC Workforce Readiness Specialist
Taha Najem - SBEC Workforce Readiness Specialist
Multicultural Community Resource Center
Multicultural Community Resource Center
Erie's Public Schools office building
Erie's Public Schools office building
From Erie Schools Frog - Education is important
From Erie Schools Frog - Education is important
Explain this letter about an appeal decision
Explain this letter about an appeal decision
Markets enrich area with beauty as well as food
Markets enrich area with beauty as well as food