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By Emel Hadzipasic, director of development and planning for the Office of Refugees and Immigrants (ORI) 

Recently, the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants (ORI) received a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement to provide enhanced employment services to newly arrived refugees that have multiple barriers to employment and self-sufficiency.  This new ORI program, Refugee Independence through Service Enhancement or RISE, will target four refugee sub-groups, including: single refugee mothers; refugee women with low/no literacy; refugees with medical conditions; and refugees with social and psychological issues. Since refugees in these target populations constitute a substantial portion of the approximately 2,500 new refugee arrivals to Massachusetts, we expect the grant to yield overall higher employment among the state’s newly arrived refugees. RISE clients will likely be represented by all of Massachusetts’ refugee populations that come from approximately 60 different countries, although Iraqi, Bhutanese, Burmese, and Somali refugees are the largest groups represented during the past few years.      

Employment service providers for refugees participating in RISE are in the Commonwealth’s main refugee resettlement areas: Greater Boston, the North Shore, Merrimack Valley; and Central and Western Massachusetts. RISE Resource Coordinators within each of the service agencies receiving funding as part of this grant will be instrumental to ensuring that each RISE client receives customized supports to ensure successful job placements. One of the unique features of RISE is the role volunteers play to provide direct services. ORI and each of the service agencies will work closely with the statewide RISE Volunteer Coordinator, charged with recruiting and training volunteers from universities throughout Massachusetts as well as other sources (e.g. churches and professional organizations). Volunteers will be matched with RISE clients to ensure that each RISE client receives assistance with tutoring, counseling, life-skills orientation, and other forms of personal guidance that will help clients address the difficult challenges they face on the road to employment and financial independence in the U.S. 

The RISE service model holds enormous promise for creating successful employment outcomes for targeted refugees through a cost-efficient approach that utilizes volunteers.  ORI looks forward to implementing RISE services during the two-year project term, which runs through FY12 and FY13. We are excited about the opportunity to fortify services for the most vulnerable of the state’s refugee populations, and to leverage more successful outcomes through the RISE program’s unique public-private partnership model.  RISE will count on the expertise of the Tufts University Refugee Assistance Program (TU-RAP), a volunteer program developed by graduate students from Tufts’ Fletcher School of International Affairs to help newly-arrived refugees with various needs. This private initiative has been gaining strength throughout the Greater Boston area during the last year. With support from RISE funding, we hope the TU-RAP model of assisting refugees will be replicated statewide.


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