Every year, refugee families arrive in Pittsburgh with hopes for a better, safer life. But a better life doesn’t come quickly or easily. They often face unexpected challenges with finding good paying jobs, navigating US systems in a language they don’t speak, making sure their children’s needs are met, and dealing with their own trauma and mental health. The process can be overwhelming without outside help to navigate and understand life in the US. And that’s where JFCS’s refugee resettlement program comes in.
Good Job Happy Family
JFCS Refugee & Immigrant Services newest program Good Job Happy Family is a unique collaborative approach to helping new refugee families adjust to life in the US. With funding from the State Refugee Program, JFCS created this program specifically for the needs of our Pittsburgh-based clients to help them achieve the goal of self-sufficiency as a family. The holistic program also helps them move through the post-resettlement phase at an accelerated rate, connecting them to essential services and resources to help them thrive.
To make this program successful, staff members from various JFCS departments work together, including JFCS Refugee & Immigrant Services, JFCS Career Development Center, JFCS Counseling Services and JFCS Youth Service.
Telesphore Kagaba works as the case manager to help each family identify and navigate the services they need. “In resettlement, we say that each family is a special case,” Tele explained. “Some of them have never been to school. Many of them have no English language. It’s a very complex situation they are in when they arrive.”
A Focus on Refugee Youth
Good Job Happy Family addresses needs like employment, English-language, education for children, and various other areas of life, like traditional case management—but takes on a much more holistic approach, working together with the family over a longer period of time to help them set and meet their own goals as an entire family. “For this program, the youth piece is really important. Parents are navigating their own needs as well as the needs of their children,” Robin Farabee-Siers, coordinator of the program said.
In addition to navigating the local school systems, Good Job Happy Family helps youth in the family connect to other programs to help them adjust to life in the US. JFCS’s Newcomers Crew helps school-aged refugee youth practice English and find camaraderie. UpStreet offers online mental health services for anyone ages 12-22 through brief support and individual counseling. 412 Futures works with refugee and immigrant youth to help them navigate school, learn about culture, the city, careers, and plan for life after high school. Teens can also participate in Learn and Earn, a Partner4Work program that connects youth to summer employment to gain skills and experience. These programs are integrated into the Good Job Happy Family program to help address the needs of the children from school to mental health and more.
For families with children that have special needs, the integrative, holistic approach is especially important. “Navigating the education system, especially in this pandemic, for a child with special needs, can be really challenging,” Robin explained. “This program provides a kind of wraparound service for those families.”
Refugee Families Take the Lead
For adults in the family, Good Job Happy Family helps them find meaningful employment while also navigating the local workforce and understanding potential future opportunities. The JFCS Career Development Center staff work to connect them to skills training and other resources that can help them earn higher wages as they continue to adjust to life here.
One of the most unique aspects of the program is that the families work with Tele, the case worker, to explore and set their own goals. The program works with JFCS’s full range of programs to connect each family to a unique bundle of services that address the goals they set for themselves for the first few years in the US. Tele works with each family to help them identify their needs and explore the options available to them to help them find which programs will be a good fit for the family.
“Our role is to coordinate and support the family’s efforts. We don’t tell them what to do; they tell us what they want to do,” said Tele. “So when we enroll a family in our program…we try to connect them to the different community assets that can help them address those needs. We have a whole range of programs and we tailor those programs based on their expressed goals.”
Good Job Happy Family aims to take a more comprehensive approach to refugee resettlement, especially the first few years, to help families adjust more quickly to their new lives–for both parents and children. This program is just one more way JFCS is working to help individuals and families in our community move forward towards career stability, gain self-sufficiency and find ways to thrive in our community.