I’m thrilled to share that I’ve officially started working at the leading refugee resettlement agency in Pittsburgh, Northern Area Multi Services Center. In my new role in the Reception and Placement Department I am working with refugees during their first 90 days of arrival in the United States. My focus is on securing housing and a whole host of tasks and responsibilities around ensuring that their entry to the U.S. is supported and they feel welcome all while creating a framework for their own self-sufficiency within 90 days.
I say “officially” because I had been hanging around there the last few months looking for ways to help and wanting to learn more about how the refugee resettlement process works until one day the Director and Senior Case Manager turned to me and said, “Do you want to work here? We have an opening and you’d be perfect for it.”
While my work with refugees and in developing countries has spanned over a decade, my journey and introduction to the local refugee resettlement community started in the fall when I hosted a Syrian refugee family during Thanksgiving (and wrote about it).
It feels right to make this announcement today.
Today is Day 1 of a new administration that has not shown support for political and ethnic refugees. I have always been driven by empathy and the ideal that those that have more have a responsibility to help those who have less. This feeling was amplified during the last election cycle. I saw all around me people who were appalled at the state of discourse and dialogue aimed at refugees and immigrants. I saw as people became increasingly frustrated at these portraits but then we all witnessed the unimaginable. An election where love did not trump hate. I am announcing this new job because I truly believe that during the next administration it will be our jobs — everyday citizens and neighbors — to be better to each other than we ever have before and to support each other in ways we haven’t before. I refuse to be frustrated or silenced. If I can play even a small role in standing up for the ideals and very foundation of America — that we are all created equal — that is what I am going to do. I’m not alone. Many are re-evaluating their work. Together we can be an army if we do this hard work together.
The timing of this new role is not an accident. I’m currently in my final semester of a mid-career graduate program in nonprofit management at The University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of International and Public Affairs (GSPIA). I took this past academic year off from working to enter this program and really focus on what I wanted to do next in my career. I have a 15-year career where I’ve done very well, learned a lot, have a really strong network and have worked across multiple industries including working at and with nonprofits, leading corporate social responsibility campaigns and creating strategic partnerships and programs between nonprofits and for-profits. For the last 7 years I have worked almost exclusively in the digital arena — digital marketing, digital PR, digital advertising. It was incredibly lucrative but I always struggled with the online-offline components. I wanted to feel like I was making a difference offline, in the real world, even when I was raising millions of dollars for causes online I still craved offline connections.
The best part about my new role is that a large part of the staff also went through the graduate program at GSPIA and are incredibly supportive and willing to work around my school schedule. The job isn’t full-time and that allows me to still have time to focus on school and on career development as graduation is just around the corner.
For 10 years, I blogged about a term I created called “cause-filled living” at The Causemopolitan. In my blogging, I shared ways I had found that balance and connection. While I’m no longer blogging on that site, that platform created a world of opportunities for me to build a thriving consulting business and travel the world working with nonprofits and NGOs. In 2009 I became a Kiva Fellow working in microfinance in the Philippines and I saw first-hand how lives could be changed with support, education, better housing opportunities and skill development for those in need. That really stuck with me.
When I moved from New York City to Pittsburgh in the fall of 2015, I knew this next chapter would include a career shift. Moving back to my hometown where I grew up after 15 years away had a momentous homecoming feeling. After living in Boston, Los Angeles, New Orleans and New York City, I was finally home. I have spent this past year hyper-focused on what was next and how I could make the greatest impact. I kept coming back to wanting to work with communities that were under-served. When graduation arrives in April, I aim to have more exciting updates.
I am learning a ton about the refugee resettlement process — housing, jobs, ESL, education — and I’ll be sharing more of that as well. Communities would benefit greatly from a broader understanding of the introductory days of a refugee family, there is so much more that goes into it than you could imagine. Pittsburgh is an exciting place to be doing this work. Just this week, one of our City Councilman introduced 6 pieces of legislation supporting immigrants and refugees.
Watch this space. There is a lot of ways nonprofits and foundations will have to step up if and when government budgets are slashed. I’m focused on being part of the solution. Let’s get to work.