Refugee Services

Who is a Refugee

“The term ‘refugee’ means any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality . . . and who is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion . . . ” Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(a) (42) [8 U.S.C.1101]


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The Refugee Experience

  • There were 16.1 million refugees, globally, at the end of 2015
  • Less than 1% of all refugees were resettled that year
  • There were 31.1 million internally displaced people at the end of 2016
  • Most refugee camps do not have running water, electricity, and only cover basic necessities
  • Most refugees arrive in the U.S. with little English or knowledge of modern city living 

How JVS Works with Refugees

JVS was originally established in 1949 to assist Holocaust survivors, refugees, and displaced persons build new lives in this country. Since 2004, JVS has been resettling refugees in Kansas City, MO and resettles nearly 500 refugees every year.

Our Programs

JVS works with refugees to help them become self-sufficient in America. Services provided to refugees include:

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  • Locating and furnishing housing
  • Providing basic necessities
  • Case management/counseling
  • Food and cash assistance
  • Employment assistance
  • Referrals to schools and English as a Second Language (ESL)
  • Referrals to healthcare
  • Cultural orientation


Frequently Asked Questions

How do refugees get to Kansas City?

The U.S. government has a refugee resettlement program to which refugees worldwide can apply. JVS is a local affiliate to the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) located in Washington, DC. Through this program, nearly 500 refugees from over 15 countries relocate to Kansas City each year.

Why do refugees need help?

Refugees have been forced to flee violence, experience trauma, and many have never known the meaning of “home.” When refugees arrive here, most have never had running water, electricity, or any of the modern amenities we are used to in a city.

For more information contact:

Steve Weitkamp, Director, Refugee Services
816-471-2808 ext. 1123


Refugee Employment Services

Refugee Employment Services are provided to eligible individuals having resided in the USA for a period of less than five years. Pre-job placement services include work readiness training, individual employment planning and counseling, skills assessments, job search skills, application tutoring, mock interviewing, and direct referral to employers posting full and part-time permanent positions. Pre-job placement services also may include transportation, interpretation/translation. Retention and follow-up services are provided to individuals following job placement, geared towards resolving acculturation difficulties specific to the workplace.

We serve over 350 job seekers each year and 80% of those we place in employment are still employed at 90 days.

For further information contact:

Stephen LeCerf, Manager of Refugee Employment Services
816-471-2808 ext. 1134


Social Work

The Social Work Program at JVS offers intensive family case management and therapy services for both adults and children/youth. Services are focused towards underserved refugee and immigrant populations. Individuals served by the Social Work Program are often able to connect with other JVS programs which include immigration services, employment services and cultural orientation. Social Work staff interacts with a diverse client population from all around the world with a variety of strengths and needs. As a result, individuals and families working with the Social Work Program receive personalized care where they work closely with their social worker to identify their needs and goals. In order to accomplish these services the Social Work Program utilizes a staff of experienced Masters level social workers (83% are also licensed)  as well as undergraduate and graduate social work students.


The Social Work Program offers individual and group Narrative Therapy for adults. For youth a combination of expressive therapies and play therapy techniques are used and for groups a narrative model is implemented. These services are free and open to refugees and immigrants who are interested in meeting either individually or in a group. Therapy sessions are lead by a licensed social worker under clinical supervision. Therapy assists individuals in managing stress, anxiety, depression, as well as learning more about themselves, developing strengths or skills, and setting goals for the future. Therapy can be offered in the community, at home, in school or at the JVS office.

“I really enjoy working with JVS. The people were really people I could trust. I felt comfortable working with them. I’m happy working with them.”


Intensive Case Management

While acknowledging barriers and hardships, the Social Work Program focuses on the skills, strengths and abilities of clients in order to connect them to the resources they need to be successful. Social Work staff offers assistance with fulfilling basic needs (ie: housing and food), addressing domestic violence concerns, connecting to services for mental health, navigating the court system, furthering knowledge around insurance and navigating  United States medical systems as well as identifying employment resources. Social work staff members work as part of a team with other departments at JVS including Center for New Americans (CNA) and Employment Services in order to enhance services and foster success among the individuals who seek these services.

Global Gardens:

The Global Gardens Project is a three year tiered program that works to develop vacant lots into garden spaces for refugees to grow on. Many refugees come from agricultural backgrounds, and when they find themselves living in apartments in the urban core, they long for a little bit of land to grow vegetables that are familiar to them. We are finding suitable lots in refugees’ neighborhoods, transforming them to gardens, and connecting refugees with a garden plot. Educational workshops to train refugee growers about growing in the  U.S., climate, soils, water, organic growing methods, and nutrition are offered. Gardeners are given the chance to sell at the Northeast Community Garden as well as tour other Community Garden spaces to assist as they transition out of the program after year three.  The goals of the Global Gardens Project are to increase access to and consumption of healthy food, improve physical health indicators, improve mental health indicators, and increase social integration of refugees.









If you are interested in field education opportunities at JVS or questions about the Social Work Department or Global Gardens, please contact:
Sarah Cirese-Payton, LMSW, Social Work Program Manager