Refugee Employment Sticks This Time

by Bryn Kirk

I know I should not hold my breath but I can’t help it.  The father in our Karenni refugee family started a new job last week!  He completed a 40 hour week; 4 ten-hour days Monday through Thursday.  So far so good!  I think I can let my breath out.

His job is a temp-to-hire position at a company that makes corporate promotional t-shirts and other clothing.  He does general cleaning and shop floor support.

He LOVES it! When I pick him up after work he is practically glowing.

The problem we are working on right now is transportation.  Although it is fortunate that the company is located only ten minutes from his home, it is not on a bus line.  On top of that, he must start work at 6 am.

I did not have a single person volunteer to drive him to work at that early hour.  Go figure!  Thankfully, the W-2 program has arranged for a taxi cab to take him to work temporarily – for one month.  This will give us time to work out a plan.  Currently, four volunteers pick him up from work at 4:30 pm, each taking a different day of the week.  This is working beautifully.

We are busy checking into a possible carpool situation.  He also likes to ride his bicycle and I know he will do that once he is comfortable with the route and the weather cooperates.  This is a heavy traffic area so outfitting him with a helmet and reflective gear is a must.  When we told him about our worries of him biking to work, he laughed it off.  He used to drive a motorized scooter in an overcrowded city in Thailand, weaving in and out of traffic with little concern of his personal safety.  He told us we worry too much.  We told him we like him too much and are prone to worry.  We are not backing down on the helmet!

Our group is so relieved that the demands of the W-2 job search are over!  As a team, we put in 146 hours of time in 6 weeks for serious job search.  Out of this effort came 3 interviews (one by phone, two in person with an interpreter) and 2 calls from companies interested in learning more but discovering the English language barrier too great for the job requirement.  Although nothing we did directly landed him a job, we did learn some valuable things for the future.

For example, the people that arranged the interviews, and the ones that called to find out more, all commented on how much they liked his cover letter…

I wrote a cover letter explaining his refugee status, refugee info in general, and our commitment in supporting him through the job process as well as being resource for providing interpreters and being the liaison between employer and employee.  I also included a phonetic spelling/pronunciation of his name.  This resulted in a lot of positive feedback on the letter, but most of all they appreciated how to say his name when they called! 

We had never had the foresight to send out a cover letter of that kind before.  We used to focus solely on skills, and work ethic but nothing on the situation and support behind him/her.  It certainly helped with the online applications and made him stand out among the other candidates.

In the end, however, it was not the 146 hours we provided for the W-2 program, but rather the staffing company that put him into the first job that lasted only one day back in January placed him in his current position.

It does not matter how he got this job, we’re just super happy he has one.  And so is he!

One Response to “Refugee Employment Sticks This Time”

  1. peter says:

    Hello! My name is Peter Kelm, and I’m a pastor of a Lutheran church in Mequon. Our congregation has helped to settle two Karenni families (they’re related) through LSS, and I’m just looking to find others to network with. If you’re interested, let me know!

    God bless,


Leave a Response