Refugee Assistance Program FINAL

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Easing the way of refugees who are starting a new life Suliman Abdalla arrived in Alaska 10 years ago from Lebanon. He didn't speak English and was shocked by the Alaska climate, so different from his native Sudan. In his country, he could get by on public transportation, but here, driving is nearly a necessity. "When you come to the U.S. there is nothing easy," said Abdalla, a floor technician in the Environmental Services Department at Providence Alaska Medical Center (PAMC). "After years of work, I learned to drive; you have to drive." Fortunately, Catholic Social Services Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services (RAIS) was available to help Abdalla in those early days. Formed as a safety net to help newly arrived refugees transition to life in Alaska, the program offered him language classes, job training, and eventually, a permanent job. RAIS is one of dozens of community programs that Providence Alaska supports via community investment. The partnership between Providence and Catholic Social Services not only helps ease the way for those coming to the United States for the first time, but also provides a stream of dependable, hard-working employees who find lifelong careers at Providence. "The program has come a long way," said Nikki Brayboy, Environmental Services manager, and Abdalla's supervisor at PAMC. "It is a teaching and learning experience at the same time. And Suliman is such a good worker – friendly and always ready to help and offer suggestions. We are lucky to have the employees we get through this program." Brigit Reynolds, Catholic Social Services education and employment manager said what really makes Providence's support helpful is the direct connection she has with those who do the hiring. Applying for a job is a detailed process that takes an understanding of how the hiring system works. For people like Abdalla, that can feel overwhelming. Reynolds said she helps make those connections for refugees and guides them through the process. "To have those points of contact at Providence is critical," Reynolds said. "I have no idea how many of our trainees would not have been able to work at Providence without this program." Today, more than 10 years since the program started, refugees have been hired to work in laundry, environmental services, food and nutrition, patient-care supplies and more. Training lasts for approximately six months, depending on an individual's needs. "A lot of refugees come with skills and talents but might not be able to jump right into a job," said Issa Spatrisano, who helped match Abdalla in his job in Reynolds' position. Today, she is CSS's state refugee coordinator and works with refugees across the state. "There are English barriers, childcare challenges and adjustment time that takes place. They might not be ready to walk right into a Providence job, but they will be good at it when they get there."

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