Welcome to a new Career Development Partner!
“Welcome to the U.S.A. I know what it stands for… ‘U’ ‘Start’ ‘Again’.” This is not an uncommon response to hear when discussing employment with the refugee and asylee clients in the Suburban Washington Resettlement Center (SWRC). Many individuals are told, while they’re still overseas, that no matter what profession they had in their home country, here in the USA, you start from the beginning. While difficult and very humbling, starting a minimum wage job is necessary to start on the path to “self sufficiency,” a term loosely used to signify a transition from dependence on social services. However, to become truly “self sufficient” focus needs to look past this first job and onto what comes next. Goal setting and career development support from Employment Specialists at the SWRC accompanies efforts to find a first job quickly, but it is mentorship that many clients need within a system that they are constantly learning to navigate. Fortunately, for 8 clients of the SWRC, as StreetWise Partners has been able to provide that and so much more.
StreetWise Partners is a non-profit organization that works with low-income individuals to help them overcome employment barriers through mentorship with volunteers from the business world. StreetWise Partners in Washington DC offers two year long programs and this year also offered a 5 week intensive program for those a little less in need of guidance. Each individual is matched up with one or two mentors from a similar field or a field of interest and they meet once a week, as well as stay in constant contact outside the weekly class. Together they set short and long term goals, create resumes and cover letters, practice how to deliver a 15 second “elevator pitch,” advance their computer knowledge, improve their interviewing and presentation skills, and learn the importance of and ability to network.
The impact StreetWise Partners has on the trainees they accept to the program is evident in many ways. It was one client’s incredibly professional cover letter that led to the discovery of the program in the first place. Ranging from the noticeable difference in phone etiquette from a colleague’s recent conversation with another client, to the stack of business cards collected and informational interviews set up by yet another, StreetWise Partners continues to provide and improve the skill-sets needed for our clients to advance in the professional world. Perhaps even more importantly, the effect of StreetWise Partner reaches far past empowering our clients with skills. Recently, when asked about his experience so far, a client explained that, “no matter how stressed I am, or how bad my week was, when I go to StreetWise on Saturday morning I feel like I am home. StreetWise is keeping me going and I look forward to it every week.” The atmosphere created through the relationships formed with mentors and other trainees has been both comforting and encouraging for individuals who are, as stated, “starting again.”
StreetWise Partners shows promise of being a partner that will accompany the individual down the real road to self-sufficiency for a portion of the way. A refugee’s hand will not be held forever but long enough to learn how to navigate the system on their own, empowered to jet off in whatever direction they choose. Another refugee client said it all when he said, “I think StreetWise Partners will change the direction of my life.”