The trauma of the refugee experience and lack of medical care in the camps caused Ram Rai, a Bhutanese refugee, to suffer from anxiety, depression, vision impairment, heart issues and arthritis. She became isolated and unable to care for her needs or those of her family.
Her son, Sunil, aged 21 had gone straight to work when his family arrived in the US, but as his mother’s issues became worse, he quit his job in order to care for her. With only one brother’s limited income, the family was struggling to make ends meet, so they turned to JVS. “When we first got to Kansas City, I was very scared of strangers. I was even scared to leave the house,” said Ram Rai, “I was very tense because I was away from my relatives and friends, and there was no one that spoke our language. But JVS helped us a lot, and taught us how to use everything in the house, because it was all new to us. I miss everything about Bhutan. I miss my fields and my cattle. But I like how good everything is here. I like living here because everyone is so friendly. The people here care about others. My life is going good now. Everything is good! I can sleep and eat now. I have many friends, so everything is good. What I like is going to school every day. I really don’t like to miss school!”
Our knowledgeable and caring social workers helped Ram Rai apply for health insurance, disability benefits, obtain eye glasses, and reconnect with primary care doctors. The JVS Knitting Group gave her a social outlet and taught her coping techniques for her anxiety and depression. The Narrative Therapy Project helped her see her strengths and gain new-found courage and independence. Ram Rai learned to ride the bus and was able to attend English as a Second Language class for the first time.
Her son, Sunil’s life has changed as well. With his mother taken care of, he felt comfortable rejoining the workplace and is now contributing to his family’s financial well-being and gaining important skills and experience for his own future. He has recently begun GED classes as well.
In October 2013, Lorettha Young started a new job as a housekeeper at the Intercontinental Kansas City Hotel on the Plaza. Though she had no previous experience in working as a housekeeper, Lerettha quickly learned all the new responsibilities that came with the position.
Her challenge as a deaf individual did not deter her success as a hotel housekeeper, and she was selected as one of eight nominees for the January 2014 Associate of the Month. She was shocked but excited to learn she had been recognized.
Her hard work ethic, can-do attitude, positive and confident attitude, and dedication to her work made her stand out among the staff. She worked hard to make sure she understood what was going on, including reading lips, writing notes back and forth, and using sign language. Lerettha taught her co-workers and supervisor basic signs so they could more effectively communicate with her.
Lorettha worked with JVS Employment Specialist Anna Rundle, who is herself Hard of Hearing. Anna helped build her confidence and taught her strategies for succeeding in an interview. Anna was able to provide insight into how to advocate for her needs and how to address communication challenges. Though another employee won the title, Lerettha was honored to be nominated and so thankful for the support she received from JVS.
Santa Rai was born in Bhutan. Due to the ongoing conflicts, the Rai family fled to Nepal in 1992 when Santa was four years old. In Nepal, Santa, his parents and his four brothers lived in a refugee camp in a small hut. The living conditions were not good and jobs were hard to find and temporary. Santa worked as a construction worker and a school cleaner. He finished seventh grade, and his favorite subject to study was English.
Santa came to America in 2014 at age 26. When he found out he was coming to America, he was very happy and thought that America was going to be nice and safe. He was excited about the opportunities he was going to have.
JVS arranged several interviews at hotels and restaurants. Santa was hired on at The Cheesecake Factory as a dishwasher. After only five months, he was awarded Employee of the Month for his hard work ethic and positive attitude. He was very excited and all of his co-workers made sure to congratulate him.
Santa continues to thrive, as he has now moved up from dishwasher to cook. When his parents and brother came to America in February 2016, it was an easy task getting them hired on at The Cheesecake Factory because of his success. Santa has also been a help in the lives of other JVS clients who work at The Cheesecake Factory by driving them to and from work. His kindness has helped several people keep their jobs.
He says that JVS has played a large role in his family’s lives. Santa wants his family to save enough money to purchase a big house for all of them to live in. He would like to get married one day and have a family of his own. He would like to work his way up to becoming a manager at The Cheesecake Factory or another restaurant.
“I feel good about working in America. It is important to have a job because it helps pay for my house, bills, and everything. I like working at the Cheesecake Factory because people are good that work there and I have many friends. JVS is very nice and helpful to me and my family.”
The Htoo* family was resettled in America about five years ago by an agency in Texas. They fled Burma due to political persecution and came to the United States as refugees. The family of six moved to Kansas City last year.
The father was in a car accident about three years ago. He survived, but the other passengers did not. He was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and was unable to walk or talk. Since the 13-year-old daughter knew English, she was responsible for helping the family with everything from managing money to accessing benefits. When she arrived in Texas she was put two grades beneath where she should be in school.
Based on the Htoo family’s needs when they came to Kansas City, they qualified for the JVS Social Work program which helps families who need additional support in removing barriers to employment. Over the next few months a JVS social worker, Meaghan, helped the Htoo family. The mother got a job, which was a huge financial relief to the family. Meaghan helped the family learn how to manage finances so they could become self-sufficient.The father got medication he needed, saw six specialty doctors to provide care, and is seeing a physical therapist. Now he can walk, talk, and the family has an in-home support person who comes to the house to teach him life skills.
JVS helped the 13-year-old daughter get moved to the appropriate grade level and then moved to the honors program. She now plays on the soccer team. The 13-year-old told Meaghan, “When you are beside me, I get strong.”
*Name changed to protect client confidentiality