Northeast Times

At JEVS, all are welcomed with open arms

— JEVS cel­eb­rates its 70th an­niversary by con­tinu­ing to help refugees find em­ploy­ment in the United States.

Amir Fayzul­layev (cen­ter) from Rus­sia and Ibt­is­am Babiker from Su­dan in ESL class at the JEVS Hu­man Cen­ter for Refugees at Or­leans Tech­nic­al In­sti­tute. The JEVS Hu­man Ser­vices is cel­eb­rat­ing its 70th an­niversary, Tues­day, June 12, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

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JEVS Hu­man Ser­vices cel­eb­rated its 70th an­niversary last month with a gala at a La­fay­ette Hill coun­try club, and guests had a chance to talk about all of the changes in the last sev­en dec­ades.

Back in the be­gin­ning, JEVS helped Jew­ish refugees flee­ing Europe dur­ing the Holo­caust to find em­ploy­ment in the United States.

But in a way, the agency’s mis­sion has stayed the same.

Its Cen­ter for New Amer­ic­ans — loc­ated at Or­leans Tech­nic­al In­sti­tute, 2770 Red Li­on Road — is still help­ing refugees, but those folks are com­ing from places like Ir­aq and Liber­ia.

Zoya Kravets, dir­ect­or of the Cen­ter for New Amer­ic­ans and a nat­ive of Ukraine, said her staff con­tin­ues to help make cli­ents in­de­pend­ent and self-suf­fi­cient.

“We wanted that sev­enty years ago and now,” she said. “We want to help people. A refugee is a refugee.”

Since 2000, the Cen­ter for New Amer­ic­ans has seen about 4,000 people and placed more than 3,000 of them in jobs.

In a re­cent sev­en-month peri­od, the cen­ter worked with 187 cli­ents from 36 counties.

Ser­vices are free and are avail­able to res­id­ents of Phil­adelphia, Bucks, Mont­gomery, Chester and Delaware counties. Be­sides as­sist­ing refugees, the cen­ter works with those who’ve been gran­ted asylum and vic­tims of hu­man traf­fick­ing.

Staff mem­bers help cli­ents pre­pare re­sumes and get ready for job in­ter­views. They teach them Eng­lish and com­puter skills, along with help­ing them un­der­stand Amer­ic­an cul­ture and his­tory.

Adults are giv­en leads to full-time work in a vari­ety of fields. For 16- and 17-year-olds, there’s a fo­cus on part-time work dur­ing the school year and full-time em­ploy­ment in the sum­mer. 

Among the lan­guages spoken at the cen­ter are Ukrain­i­an, Rus­si­an, Pol­ish, Ar­ab­ic, French, Ger­man, Hebrew and Hindi.

Lar­isa Cly­mer came to JEVS in 1979 as a Ukrain­i­an refugee and re­ceived fin­an­cial, edu­ca­tion­al and vo­ca­tion­al sup­port. She worked for about a dec­ade in the health field, but re­turned to JEVS as a coun­selor. She’s taught Eng­lish as a Second Lan­guage classes and now works as an em­ploy­ment coun­selor and job de­veloper. She’s passed re­tire­ment age, but the work re­mains her pas­sion.

“I love my job. That’s why I’m still here at my age,” she said. “JEVS is a spe­cial or­gan­iz­a­tion. We be­come part of the refugees’ lives. We’re in a bet­ter po­s­i­tion to help them be­cause we have the ex­per­i­ence.”

Cly­mer works es­pe­cially closely with Ir­aqi im­mig­rants, help­ing them to un­der­stand that a Jew­ish or­gan­iz­a­tion wants to help them and that Jew­ish em­ploy­ers will hire them, as long as they are good work­ers.

“We’re very suc­cess­ful with Ir­aqi cli­ents,” she said. “We help every­body. We nev­er re­fuse any­body. It’s against the law to dis­crim­in­ate.”

Shay­maa Mohsin came from Ir­aq in 2008, en­rolling at the Uni­versity of Idaho to com­plete a mas­ter’s de­gree in en­vir­on­ment­al en­gin­eer­ing. She’d nev­er heard of the state of Idaho be­fore ar­riv­ing there.

In May, she was hired by JEVS as a case man­ager, and she is put­ting her en­gin­eer­ing ca­reer on hold to work with refugees.

The 33-year-old Far North­east res­id­ent, who speaks Ar­ab­ic, takes par­tic­u­lar pride in help­ing refugees over­come bar­ri­ers to em­ploy­ment, such as lan­guage, cul­ture and day care.

“I fi­nally found the job I wanted. This is the job of my dreams,” she said.

Mohsin said people from Ir­aq feared Sad­dam Hus­sein, adding that res­id­ents of oth­er Middle East­ern coun­tries are wary of dic­tat­ors run­ning their na­tions. Once in the United States, she said, these refugees em­brace the “melt­ing pot.”

“I’m work­ing for a Jew­ish or­gan­iz­a­tion. The bar­ri­er is not there. You don’t ex­pect a Jew­ish or­gan­iz­a­tion to provide ser­vices to Muslims,” she said.

Mar­cel­lin Mekon­nodji came to the U.S. from Chad in 2007 to study at St. Joseph’s Uni­versity. He knew little Eng­lish, but re­ceived help at JEVS.

Now 38, he is a job de­veloper and em­ploy­ment coun­selor at JEVS. He speaks Eng­lish, Ar­ab­ic and French. He thinks he’s made a dif­fer­ence in three years on staff.

“You help people from dif­fer­ent coun­tries in need of help to be­come in­de­pend­ent,” he said.

Kravets, the cen­ter dir­ect­or, had sev­er­al jobs be­fore com­ing to JEVS. She was a hos­pit­al in­ter­pret­er, paralegal and Dunkin’ Donuts store own­er be­fore be­ing hired by JEVS.

In her view, the cen­ter is ef­fect­ive des­pite the poor em­ploy­ment pic­ture.

“It’s tough. Amer­ic­ans can’t find jobs, and we’re try­ing to place for­eign­ers,” she said. “But we’re do­ing a good job. We ex­ceed our goals thanks to an ex­cel­lent staff and a nice group of vo­lun­teers.” ••

For more in­form­a­tion about the Cen­ter for New Amer­ic­ans, call 215-728-4210 or vis­it jevs.org 

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You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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