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Refugees Find Jobs, New Lives in West Michigan

January 20, 2012

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – For the hundreds of refugees who flee their homelands each year and attempt to start new lives in Michigan, finding a job is one of the first major hurdles they must clear.

The Matching Grant program run by Lutheran Social Services of Michigan provides job skills training, language classes, job placement and many other outreach and support services to help resettled refugees learn to stand on their own. And six months after clients arrive, more than 80 percent have achieved economic self-sufficiency. This means at least one adult in the household has a job, according to Program Director Chris Cavanaugh.

"The clients really want to succeed and just want to have a chance. They've been denied it for so long – due to incredible, extreme, often traumatic experiences – that they've been through before they arrived in the U.S."

The program is funded through a public-private partnership and, for every dollar raised by the agency, the federal government matches it with $2.

As much as the refugees in the program are driven to succeed, says Cavanaugh, the Matching Grant staff is also dedicated to helping them achieve their goals.

"Staff members will be up at 5:30 in the morning for a week driving them to work, picking them up when they're done, and they're doing this with multiple clients to ensure that the clients are there, and that they're learning the job, and that the employers can depend on them."

Right now, he says, the biggest caseload of refugees comes from Myanmar, but they're also seeing large numbers from Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI