Resiliency in Resettlement: A Conversation with Della Lamb & Jewish Vocational Services (Part 2)

hawkins@growyourgiving.org Individual & Family Giving

 

In part two of a two-part series, Philanthropic Advisor Kelli Doyle continues a discussion with Hilary Cohen Singer, Executive Director of Jewish Vocational Services and Ryan Hudnall, Executive Director of Della Lamb Community Services. The group talks about current challenges and opportunities that resettlement agencies are facing and how philanthropists can meet the need in this moment and in the future as refugee resettlement is a long-term process.

Find part one of the series in your podcast feed or on our blog.

A transcription of the episode can be found below. All episodes of the Grow Your Giving podcast can be found on major streaming platforms like Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and online at growyourgiving.org/podcast.

Authored by: Ashley Hawkins, Content Specialist


Episode Transcription

Introduction:
Welcome to the Grow Your Giving podcast powered by the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and our national entity, Greater Horizons. We aim to make giving convenient and efficient for our donors through donor-advised funds and other charitable giving tools. The Grow Your Giving podcast discusses philanthropic topics to help you enjoy giving more. Find us online at growyourgiving.org.

Kelli Doyle:
Welcome back to the Grow Your Giving podcast. I’m Kelli Doyle. And this is part two of a conversation with Hilary Cohen Singer, from Jewish Vocational Services, and Ryan Hudnall, from Della Lamb Community Services. These two agencies have a long history of working in the Kansas City community to serve refugees and have been working tirelessly over the last few months, especially as they prepare to welcome hundreds of refugees from Afghanistan. Hilary and Ryan, welcome back. Let’s jump right in.

Kelli Doyle:
I’d love to hear from you and from Hillary, what challenges you guys are seeing within our community that are essentially barriers or are roadblocks to really achieving that successful vision for Afghans resettling in Kansas City.

Ryan Hudnall:
So many of the challenges that we face are some of the same challenges that others across the social sectors face in addressing and advocating for their clients. There’s just some nuances here. You don’t have that history of understanding the laws of the United States. The transportation system is completely new. How do you navigate getting on a bus and going to an employer, understanding what different bus routes are. And transportation that transcends so many of the different social sectors. And as we think about access to employment.

Ryan Hudnall:
Affordable housing, particularly with this influx, that is a critical issue that we have to consider. So the refugee resettlement infrastructure, if you were to paint a picture of a time where it’d be exceptionally difficult for your local resettlement agencies to respond, it might be this one. Because of two circumstances. And that’s a bit simplistic, but I might identify two.

Ryan Hudnall:
One, the administrative policies going from the Trump Administration to the Biden Administration. They’re very different in terms of the resource allocations support, refugee resettlement. And so just to paint a picture, during FY20, I believe the numbers for resettlement overall were about 11,000. And that is well below historical averages that are going to be between 50 to 90,000. Depending upon the administrative policies.

Ryan Hudnall:
Now with president Biden in this upcoming year, he wants to establish what’s called a presidential determination, or the cap for how many were received, at 125,000. So within a couple of years, you’re going from 11,000 to 125,000. There was increases, this past year, to raise the presidential determination to 62,500. But because of the great second circumstance, COVID-19, we’ve still had an incredible depression of the numbers that we’ve received. And the resettlement agencies, in part, are supported by the numbers of the volume that we welcome. And so with that volume, really investing in our agencies, identifying staff members, and interpreters, who really can engage in this process, has been a hard challenge.

Ryan Hudnall:
As you think about all the different challenges we face, we welcome not only those from Afghanistan but from the Democratic Republic of Congo, from Burma, from South Sudan, from across the Middle East, from Somalia. So there’s so many different cultural aspects and languages that we are required to have on staff or to engage with, that the level of resources has made it very difficult.

Ryan Hudnall:
Now we’re coming to a place where all of a sudden we’re going from a very low number, to a historic high number resettled and not just over a calendar year, fiscal year, but in three months. And so this issue of housing is really one that Hilary and I have spent a lot of time reflecting upon. How do we address, how do we welcome people well? How do we identify home furnishings? And we’re working to address that. But that’s the thing that immediately comes to mind. Hilary, your thoughts on other issues that we’re facing?

Hilary Cohen Singer:
I agree with you. I think housing is really the biggest and the earliest barrier. It’s something that needs to be addressed very early on. So we don’t have a lot of lead time to wait to figure things out. People are going to be arriving at the airport and we need to have a place for them to go. So I think that’s a critical one, but I think what’s really interesting to me about the particular circumstances with the situation with Afghanistan is the way that it plays differently in people’s minds. It lives larger for people than conflicts in other parts of the world, because it is so close to home because there are so many people who have friends and family, or they themselves were service members who served in Afghanistan, worked alongside Afghan people, developed those relationships. So for me, I think there are a huge number of challenges, but also this amazing opportunity to connect people to this work.

Hilary Cohen Singer:
We have been overwhelmed with people calling and wanting to find out how they can help, how they can get involved, what can they do to be supportive. And I think that that’s wonderful for easing some of the challenges for this particular set of circumstances, but also I think by becoming aware of agencies like JVS and Della Lamb and the work that we engage in all of the time. Not just for this crisis, but with populations from all over the world, if this is an opportunity to build awareness about that phenomenon and the global connections that are here in our city now, I think that’s a wonderful opportunity to engage and educate people that will yield good things for our organization and really for our whole community for a long time.

Kelli Doyle:
Thank you. I know that you both are not tackling these challenges in a silo on your own. So, Hilary, I’ll start with you. I’d love to hear if you could talk about some of the community partners that you’re working with to help in the resettlement process.

Hilary Cohen Singer:
Yeah, this is definitely not work that we do alone. There is a whole community effort that goes alongside supporting people as they’re making their way here. And it really touches all segments of our communities. So we have fantastic partners in schools, in healthcare providers, in employers, in city government, because it really does take that collaboration of people to weave a system of support for people to help them integrate.

Hilary Cohen Singer:
I think the strength of places like JVS and Della Lamb is in our ability to help people navigate. Our ability to be cultural brokers, language brokers, helping people learn and access services. But the ultimate goal is for people to be able to do that themselves in the mainstream setting. And to be able to work with Children’s Mercy and Samuel Rogers Health Center, our school districts, to both help them understand what needs to maybe be taken into account, differently when working with people from, from other cultures to help our clients navigate. It’s really this wonderful collaboration that everybody’s invested in helping people succeed.

Kelli Doyle:
Ryan, anything to add to Hilary’s great response.

Ryan Hudnall:
Yeah. Refugee resettlement is structured around this idea of public-private partnership. Which can be a bit of a euphemism for underfunded, they’ll say underfunded, but it’s designed to reflect the idea that it wants to minimize government dependence. It wants to encourage self-sufficiency, however that’s defined, but most cases in a financial way. It wants to encourage self-sufficiency as quickly as possible. And so getting private enterprise to invest in it, and also working with employers are key aspects of it.

Ryan Hudnall:
All of our service partners, our employers, the faith-based community, the mayor’s office has been incredible advocate here in Kansas City. And so we’ve seen so many from the different sectors emerge in these moments to respond to the crisis at hand. And so in some ways, despite, Hilary has called it the beautiful chaos of it all, because of the influx that we have, that the volume and the timing of it, despite the beautiful chaos of it all, there are real rays of light and that’s been an encouragement as we go through this incredible process of preparation to receive people.

Kelli Doyle:
And I was so glad that you brought up the public-private partnerships specifically around your funding streams for some of this work. So I’d like to ask a question that’s related to that. And knowing that you do have some dollars coming in from government agencies. And can you talk to us a little bit about where the gaps are, because obviously the dollars coming in from federal and state and local governments, don’t always cover the costs of what this work entails that you both have beautifully laid out the complexity of. So can you talk a little bit about where those gaps are and how philanthropy can really help support you in this moment, in this critical moment.

Ryan Hudnall:
With refugee resettlement, structured and agencies largely reimbursed based on this variable model of arrivals, you can see how, with different administrations, or just different circumstances with other resources required through different programs across the U.S., There’s incredible volatility related to the resettlement. And so I generally think that you want to create some stability that allows you to continue to invest and retain high-quality staff.

Ryan Hudnall:
So the past five years were difficult. Both agencies had to make some difficult decisions, because the resources related to those who were being resettled were far reduced compared to what they have been. And so that adds an element of volatility. As we said, I mean, the program is structured around this idea of public-private partnerships. So we don’t receive ample funding to invest in our staff, make this a viable long-term industry, like a career, because the ebb and flow of how different administrations think about refugee resettlement and invest resources in different areas for whatever the crises are at in the United States.

Ryan Hudnall:
So philanthropy can step forward in a number of critical ways to help create health in this process. And that’s not just for the agencies, but for how we invest in families as part of their transition into Kansas City. One, it’s helping to cover some of those key costs that are understated, like investing in staff. Creating, allowing staff members to see this as not just a moment, but a career so that they continue to grow, invest in community partnerships, such as relationships with property managers, employers, other social service providers. And that also, the longevity, of their time here allows them to have a deeper understanding of different cultural nuances, as well as different trauma-informed practices. And so helping to invest in different staff members and helping cover some of those administrative costs. Critical to creating health with the different agencies.

Ryan Hudnall:
Of course, the amount of funds that we receive rooted in this concept of financial self-sufficiency is limited. It’s very short-term. And so how we can have targeted and strategic investments in direct client assistance, helping meet the critical needs of families to expedite their financial stability. That is so helpful. And particularly because, Hilary was noting, all the different vulnerabilities of the different families that we receive. Understanding and responding to those.

Ryan Hudnall:
The refugee resettlement system is, as we’ve said, rooted in financial self-sufficiency. It’s not necessarily predicated on the idea of what is best in the long term for the health of families. But while employment is an important piece of that. Absolutely. But what about counseling and trauma, and having additional time to process and reflect. And so it’s very contextualized towards the individual families and this concept of financial self-sufficiency increasing the time that allows the affiliate agencies to work with families to overcome those barriers that they’ll have. Learning English, learning the laws, understanding the transportation system, having those resources to do that helps with the family.

Kelli Doyle:
Hilary, anything to add to what Ryan has said?

Hilary Cohen Singer:
So I could not agree more with the idea of investing in this as part of our infrastructure that is important, that shouldn’t, like you said, ebb and flow with the volume of arrivals, to be able to create some stability for agencies.

Hilary Cohen Singer:
I think the other thing that strikes me when I think about the sustainability of this program and what we ask of our clients is, if you were to put yourself in the shoes of a new arrival, you have come to the United States, you probably don’t speak the language, you are in a completely unfamiliar place, you don’t know how to navigate, you have to find work within a very short amount of time. Because agencies like JVS and Della Lamb have $1,225 per person to provide financial support. And after that money is expended, people are expected to be self-sufficient through employment.

Hilary Cohen Singer:
So I cannot imagine how terrifying it would be to be someplace new, to not speak the language, and to have to get a job three months in. I don’t know that I could do it. But this is what we ask of our clients. And this is what they do. Day in and day out, we see the amazing resiliency of people in achieving these outlandish goals that we’ve set for them. And being able to access additional funding for basic needs, support things, like rent and utilities, even an extra month of rent would give somebody the opportunity to take a month of ESL classes, take a certification course at a university. Do something to be able to further their own educational advancement before they have to enter the workforce and be providing for themselves and their families.

Kelli Doyle:
What a great kind of representation of the whole $1,200 in three months to get employed. I don’t know that I could do that either. Incredible, incredible resilience and incredible work that your agencies are doing to help support these individuals and families as they try to navigate that process. Related, we often talk to our donors about giving beyond monetary contributions and we have donors of all sizes represented here at the Community Foundation.

Kelli Doyle:
Both of you have lifted up the journey that these families and individuals go on to make it into the resettlement process, the trauma that they have experienced. And I’ve found in my day-to-day interactions with individuals in our community and nonprofits, that sometimes bringing compassion and awareness to our everyday interactions can be a really priceless gift.

Kelli Doyle:
So, Hilary, I want to start with you with this question, and I’m hoping that you can share with our listeners. What are some things that we as individuals can do or pay attention to as a community that will help these families feel welcomed and safe in Kansas City? Reflecting on how we can step up to be receptive to these families to make that three months and $1,200 to get employed and housed, achievable and just a little bit easier.

Hilary Cohen Singer:
Yeah, I think it’s a great question. And I think there are some really targeted things that people can do. I know that both of our agencies are really extending outreach to volunteers. So if people really have a heart for getting engaged, putting some effort into helping people feel welcome, I think there are ample opportunities for them to do that at JVS. We’re calling them our welcome teams. And it is people who will be engaged in helping procure items, household items, furniture, things like that, and going and setting up homes and physically creating that welcoming space for people to come home to. So I think that’s a really straightforward way to get involved.

Hilary Cohen Singer:
I would also say that as we are seeing, we have seen smaller numbers of refugees and immigrants coming into our community over the last few years. And I think both because of the Afghan surge in arrivals and the more gradual rebuilding of refugee resettlement infrastructure, we are going to see more people in our community, in our kids’ schools, in our workplaces, in the grocery store, that come from someplace else and maybe don’t dress like us. Maybe don’t look like us. Maybe don’t speak the same language. And I think, I mean, it sounds so hokey, and I’m really going to say it out loud, just something as simple as smiling at somebody. Making them feel like they’re welcome here. Stepping outside of your own comfort zone just a little bit, and maybe visiting a refugee or immigrant-owned restaurant. Someplace that is outside of your usual path of travel. Makes a huge difference in letting people know that we are interested in their lives, that we support them being in our community and that we want to engage with them and get to know them.

Kelli Doyle:
Ryan, anything to add?

Ryan Hudnall:
Yeah. As we think about giftedness and certainly financial giftedness is so critical to the health of our organizations as we see and respond to needs. What we’re really trying to tap into. We believe that everyone has something to give. Even those in the resettled communities. So we are thinking about how we act if we tap into the giftedness of the resettled communities, as well, to invest in this process. And we articulate that concept is part of what we call Community Champions and Community Advancement your Della Lamb.

Ryan Hudnall:
But we are excited about engaging resettled communities because they have a resiliency, a skillset, language competencies, a different view of our city than those who have been here for a while. It can really help people navigate. And so whether that’s on a financial side, there’s other incredible talents that our community possesses to engage in this process.

Ryan Hudnall:
For others though, maybe not in resettled community, but are thinking about how do I engage in this process. I deeply feel that presence results in transformation. And so as people are thinking about how to support, yes, please, give. That’s important for the families we serve, the health of the agency to respond. But also think about presence. Because once you share presence with someone, everything is different and you see. And so I think that both JVS Della Lamb would say to those who were thinking, maybe I want to get involved, “oh, come and see. Come and share presence with those that we get to welcome and celebrate the beauty of their lives.”

Kelli Doyle:
And for our listeners who might want to become more engaged and perhaps explore some volunteer opportunities, will you each share the contact information for where our donors should go?

Ryan Hudnall:
Yeah, for Della Lamb, we are regularly sharing real-time opportunities to serve via our social media pages, as well as on our website, www.DellaLamb.org. We have a volunteer signup page, which allows people to receive volunteer opportunities right in their inbox.

Hilary Cohen Singer:
Yep. And for JVS, it’s a similar system at www.JVSkc.org, and you can complete a volunteer application there and find out about all the opportunities to get connected.

Kelli Doyle:
Thank you. Thank you both. Before we close out, one final question. Is there anything else that you would like to share that you think our listeners should know about this topic or about the work that you’re doing in resettlement that perhaps we haven’t talked about yet?

Hilary Cohen Singer:
I’m still a little bit stuck on what Ryan said in terms of presence is transformation. I think it’s a really beautiful way to capture what is really special about the refugee resettlement process. And I think one thing that I feel really, really lucky to be able to observe is how welcoming Kansas City is. I feel like I have this really unique vantage point on our city from institutions to faith communities, to people who call up and want to help. And it is really inspiring to see how people rise to the occasion. And if anybody is on the fence about whether or not to pick up the phone and make that call, I would encourage people to do that and to find out more about what is happening in refugee resettlement and to get involved, because not only do we need the support, but it is something that I think is enriching for everybody that participates.

Ryan Hudnall:
The topic of refugee resettlement has become so incredibly polarized over the past couple of years. And it need not be that way. What we’ve seen in these particular moments is that people from all different walks of life have engaged and are excited about this process. There’s so much that refugees add to our community in terms of, not just financial benefit of employment and contributing tax dollars, there’s a real richness. Part of the richness of our community is the different pockets of people that are within our community. And they add so much.

Ryan Hudnall:
And so whether it’s the food, the friendship, the culture, this is something that really adds to our city. A new layer of beauty and a new thread of humanity. So I’m so grateful to everyone who is investing and contributing. And if you have questions, like we said, come and see. Discover the joy of this work.

Kelli Doyle:
Hilary, Ryan, thank you so much for joining me today on the Grow Your Giving podcast. If there’s anything that’s going to take me through the rest of today, it is that I see the beauty of the lives that you are working with. And thank you so much for the work that you’re doing in our community.

Hilary Cohen Singer:
Thank you for having us.

Ryan Hudnall:
It was a pleasure to join you, thank you.

Conclusion:
To hear more from the Grow Your Giving podcast, visit us online at growyourgiving.org/podcast. Thank you for listening.