I began my internship at the International Institute of St. Louis just over a month ago knowing almost nothing about how the organization functioned or what services we provided for new arrivals in the United States. While I have picked up bits and pieces about what different branches of the Institute do from my experience working at the human trafficking conference, tutoring in Citizenship Literacy classes, and listening to Anna Crosslin’s history of the International Institute, I finally had the opportunity to meet with department heads from the resettlement, workforce solutions, and economic development groups in order to discover how the International Institute operates and fulfills the needs of our clients.
Kathy Tucker, Resettlement Manager, explained the daunting task of resettling refugees which includes airport pickup, arranging an apartment, home visits, aid in enrolling in food stamp and cash assistance programs, providing orientation that covers American regulations regarding healthcare, education, laws, and employment, as well as providing resources to cover any other issues new arrivals in the United States may encounter. While several of these tasks are required by law, the International Institute goes beyond the “industry norm” and manages to provide most of these services within the same building. New refugees are allotted $925 which is used to cover all living expenses for the first three months, but after those months pass, refugees must start to function independently. Kathy described difficulties in resettlement which include not only typical struggles such as the language barrier, but also issues with trust since new arrivals tend to be weary of strangers due to the corrupt places from which they originate. Kathy believes that airport pickup is the most memorable and rewarding aspect of her job since new arrivals tend to remember the person who first greets them in the United States for the rest of their lives.
Workforce Solutions Program
I sat down with Blake Hamilton, Workforce Solutions Program Manager, to discuss employment services at the International Institute. Beyond offering skill training classes for clients through the Institute’s hotel housekeeping, sewing, and Certified Nursing Assistant programs and job placement orientation, job developers in the workforce solutions department contact local employers in order to find available jobs and assess the necessary skills potential employees must have. Blake describes his position as fast paced and emphasized the unique experiences of each new arrival looking for a job. While some arrive in the US with advanced degrees, others come here with negligible work experience and poor to nonexistent English. The workforce solutions department must evaluate each individual and create rational expectations for the new arrivals. Finding a job is essential for refugees since new arrivals are left financially independent after three months. For individuals who come to the United States with advanced education, the International Institute offers the Career Advancement for International Professionals (CAIP) program which seeks to recertify new arrivals who are looking to reach the next level in their career. Many people expect to come to the US and instantly find economic prosperity, but the reality is that new arrivals need to start immediately working, typically in low skill positions, in order to develop financial stability and a work that will allow them to achieve their version of the “American Dream” in the long run. The workforce solutions department allows new arrivals to obtain immediate cash flow, setting them on the path for long term success.
Economic Development Services
Finally, Diego Abente, Director of Economic Development Services, explained the micro lending process at the International Institute for immigrant and refugee small businesses. Since new arrivals in the United States essentially have no credit history, and thus minimal savings, ordinary banks are hesitant to loan money to these clients. The high risk associated with lending to these small businesses does not deter the International Institute. The Institute empowers new arrivals through financial literacy orientation, giving them the information they need to begin saving money and develop economic assets. It is not uncommon for clients to have minimal experience working with finances, so the complex American monetary system would cause unsurmountable culture shock if not for the resources of the International Institute. Diego enjoys the flexible and unpredictable nature of his job and has come to expect the unexpected in his day to day work. The microloans, which range from $500 to $3,500, are designed as a starter campaign allowing immigrants and refugees to experience the responsibility of a loan with the goal of becoming eligible for loans at a typical bank with their proven credit history from our program. The loans are by no means handouts. Before lending money, Diego and his department evaluate the current financial state of new arrivals in order to determine if the loan will be beneficial, assuring that clients meet baseline requirements. The Institute uses the loan to produce new opportunity for immigrants and refugees, not create another burden in this new country.
Anna Crosslin loves to promote the International Institute as the “one-stop-shop for new arrivals” since we offer so many different services and resources for our clients under one roof. Without the fantastic opportunities that are provided by the Institute, successful integration for immigrants and refugees would be next to impossible.