Opening the Door to Employment
Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, the doors of The Church by the Side of the Road in Tukwila, WA are opened a little earlier than usual. People arrive slowly: groups of women draped in long, brightly colored cloth; a few young men with baggy jeans, gelled hair and easy smiles; a young girl, her hair in tight rows and clipped at the base of her neck, shyly holds her father's hand; an older man, his face a pool of crescent-shaped laugh lines, is wearing the traditional, flattened-cone-shaped hat of Nepal. Their classroom is a quick assembly of folded chairs and tables; their teacher a bright and vibrant AmeriCorps Vista volunteer named Leann; and their subject – attaining self-sufficiency in America. Its official title is Job Readiness Class.
Many of the refugees arriving through the International Rescue Committee in Seattle are given assistance with searching for and attaining employment, and Job Readiness Class is a large step in that process. The refugees possess a wide range of skills and job experience, but lack knowledge in the cultural processes and language of gaining employment in America. Here, they learn terms like “employee,” “benefits,” and “co-worker.” Mock interviews are held where they practice talking about themselves – “I am hard-working, punctual, and motivated” – and learn necessary American cultural gestures such as maintaining eye contact, or when to shake hands in a business setting. A volunteer helps the students write resumes and fill out applications.
For newly arrived refugees, preparing for the employment world is more than practicing interview answers; it’s learning to identify and utilize public resources, and Leann has brought in a litany of organizations into her classroom. Representatives from the King County Library System have visited class to assist the students in applying for library cards. The Seattle Metro Bus has arranged to help the refugees sign up for ORCA cards and learn to navigate the public transportation system, and will be taking the class on a field trip upon completion of the tutorials. At the request of the students, the American Red Cross will hold clinics to teach Basic First Aid and CPR. The police department even dropped in to teach the refugees about their rights and how and when to call for help.
By virtue of the people it serves, Job Readiness Class isn’t just a class – it’s a community. The men and women here share a bond of trial and perseverance, and now the shared experience of learning life in a strange new world. Sometimes they tell the stories of where they’re from and who they left behind; they also tell the stories of the moments of wonder they experience every day, from the cold and endless rain to the seemingly obsessive coffee habits of the people they now find themselves walking amongst, eyes scanning a Seattle skyline of looming towers, snow-capped mountains and a cluster of pigeons riding a high warm current, grouping and scattering (like thoughts) as they prepare to land.
Return to the IRC in Seattle