Client Spotlight: Alejandra
By Hannah Wevodau & Ashton Porter, IRC Interns
Upon meeting Alejandra, you may first see her as humble and shy, but don’t let her modesty fool you. In moments, you will realize her confidence and unapologetic individuality. With unconventional aspirations and a tenacious attitude from the start of her journey with the IRC, it comes as no surprise that Alejandra became the first woman to join the landscaping crew at Backyard Bounty. In an effort to avoid boasting, Alejandra was reluctant to reveal the extent of her abilities and accomplishments. However, those who witness her work daily were eager to sing her praises. After she humbly described the less strenuous tasks involved in the day of a landscaper, Operations Director Kris Colby, took the opportunity to show us the four tons of compost Alejandra was gearing up to move for the remainder of the hot July afternoon. He assured us that success in this field “takes someone with the kind of determination Alejandra has.” In response to her employer’s praise, Alejandra confirmed, “we all work the same here.”
We were first introduced to Alejandra when she began participating in the IRC in Silver Spring’s Women’s Employability Program, a initiative that uses English language classes to inform students about the job market and how to get employed. Alejandra was known not only as an active student, but also as an exceptionally driven individual with the desire to persevere. Any IRC team member that had the pleasure of interacting with Alejandra would agree with Employment Specialist Elena Robles when she exclaimed that Alejandra was a “joy to work with.” From the start, Alejandra boldly expressed her desire to work in a trade, and even revealed her interest in becoming a tattoo artist one day. Given her previous experience in the roofing industry in her country of origin, male dominated fields have never intimidated Alejandra. Working alongside the IRC’s employment specialists to promote financial self-sufficiency - by matching her skills and aspirations with a local employment partner - it quickly became obvious that Backyard Bounty was a perfect fit. Employment Services Supervisor Marta Tewolde explained that as the IRC’s Economic Empowerment Program, “responds to the hiring needs of local businesses by connecting them with qualified job seekers for an opportunity to interview, it is truly a win-win for both employers and job seekers. Each hire has a tremendous impact on both parties and equally important, it stimulates our local economy.” Partnering with the IRC, over 100 employers have the unique opportunity to leverage their hiring power to empower immigrants and refugees with valuable and essential skill sets to serve the local economy.
Alejandra’s employer, Backyard Bounty, is a small, woman-owned business in Silver Spring and a business leader in the local community. Specializing in landscape architecture, Backyard Bounty weaves together environmental sustainability and artistic design to create beautiful gardens. Kris Colby highlighted their mission of hiring immigrant and refugee staff, thus providing stability and opportunity for new Americans like Alejandra. Backyard Bounty also works to support their employees in their short-term needs and long-term goals, such as working with a local English teacher to provide weekly lessons for Alejandra and her coworkers. While talking with Alejandra, it is evident there is a family culture amongst the employees. Especially while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, Alejandra and the other staff members work to support one another and look out for each other's health and safety. Alejandra joked that in their workplace culture, “We take care of each other too much.”
Alejandra is proud to be the only woman working on the Backyard Bounty crew. Despite the challenges posed by a day of physically demanding labor beginning at 6 am, Alejandra reports that she has adapted. Though this is her first experience gardening, Alejandra quickly fell in love with plants, and working with them is now her favorite part of the day. When asked how she stays motivated on the toughest days, Alejandra tells us that she draws strength from her family who escaped persecution in Central America to start a new life in the U.S. as refugees. She recounts with a smile how close they are and the joy she feels while spending her free time with them playing tennis at the park.
The relationship between Backyard Bounty and Alejandra is a testament to the privilege of learning from and working alongside immigrant and refugee employees. Through this job at Backyard Bounty, Alejandra is able to pursue her passions, develop her skills and contribute as an established member of the Silver Spring community. With her determination and motivation, we have no doubt that Alejandra will continue to be a trailblazer as she transforms gardens and shines in a male-dominated field, resolute in her goal of creating a better future for herself and her community.