odinews

April 2012

Vol. 4 Issue 2

Latest news and stories 
In This Issue
Major Microenterprise Program Expansion Underway
Our MoneyWork$ Program: Helping Community Members Succeed
RHEAP Provides English Language, Employment, and Health Skills for New Iraqis

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 Current Events

 

Job and Internship Opportunities Available at Opening Doors!

 

In conjunction with our Microenterprise Program expansion, we are currently seeking a manager for our Microenterprise Program.

 

Also, Opening Doors is always looking for volunteer interns who wish to expand their professional skills as well as contribute to society. 

 

Our current internship and job openings can be found on our website:

Jobs and Internships 

 

 

 

Survivors of Human Trafficking Tabling Event

 

May 19th, 10AM - 2PM

 

The Sacramento Children's Home has invited our Survivors of Human Trafficking team to table at the North Sacramento Family Resource Center's 10th Annual Uptown Festival. 

 

The event will be held at Smythe Elementary School, 2781 Northgate Boulevard. Come join us for an afternoon of games, activities, live performances, and more!

 

 

 

Warm Thanks to the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd

 

Opening Doors' Refugee Resettlement staff would like to thank the program directors from the Lutheran Church of Good Shepherd for inviting our clients to their Easter Camp for children. The kids had a great time making arts and crafts and hunting for Easter eggs!

 

 

 

More Thanks...

 

To Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer for hosting RHEAP sessions, to Trinity Lutheran Church for providing a venue for the MoneyWork$ graduation, and to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, La Familia Counseling Center, and Hillsdale One Stop Career Center for hosting MoneyWork$ evening sessions. Without you, our work would not be possible.

 

 

 

 

Greetings! 

 

In these tough times when so many people in our community have been affected by the economic downturn, it's up to all of us to pull together and help foster financial regrowth in our community. For every small business that expands, and for every family who increases their assets and becomes self-sufficient, Sacramento benefits as a whole. 

 

In the articles below, you will read how Opening Doors is making a difference in our local economy. Through our Refugee Health Employment Attainment Program (RHEAP), we provide refugees and survivors of human trafficking with the health, English language, and vocational training classes needed to understand American workplace culture, and find employment. Through our MoneyWork$ program, we help families and individuals struggling to make ends meet gain the tools necessary to become financially self-sufficient and increase their assets. And finally, thanks to an exciting change in our Prosperity Project microloan program, Opening Doors will now be playing a key role in directly assisting in the growth and development of the Sacramento area's considerable small business sector. 

 

By helping the underserved members of our community find employment, become economically self-sufficient, and start or expand existing small businesses, Opening Doors is doing our part to aid in the economic recovery of our community. 

 

Major Microenterprise Program Expansion Underway

 

Three of our successful Microenterprise clients
Left to right: Kamal Mansoor, Eugene Stepanov and Saif Al Mosuli

 

MicroenterpriseDuring the coming months, Opening Doors will bring to the Sacramento region something that our economy and our low-to moderate-income business owners desperately need: microloans. We are currently undertaking a major expansion of our microloan program that will allow us to broaden our focus from refugees and immigrants to include all low-income entrepreneurs. We will be announcing this change to the general public soon, but would like to provide you with a sneak peek at some of the important changes we have in store, and the ways they will make a big difference in our community.

           

For nearly two decades, we have assisted an important segment of our small business community. Understanding how difficult it can be for refugees to land their first job and knowing the amazing amount of entrepreneurial energy and skills many come with, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement has provided us with funding to serve this community. Through our Refugee Microenterprise program we have provided over $935,000 in financing, assisting 97 refugee or asylee entrepreneurs with microloans in amounts at or below $15,000, along with individual business assistance and training. If you have followed us through our newsletters or website, you have seen some of the success stories that have resulted.

  

Yet when other members of our community have approached us with micro-financing needs, we have chafed under the restrictions of our refugee-only-focused loan program. And when refugee business owners have needed, and clearly had the capacity to repay, amounts somewhat larger than $15,000, we've also had to say no. This is about to change as we carry out our Microenterprise program expansion.

  

We are proud to announce that we have been accepted by the Small Business Administration as a Microloan Intermediary and have been provided with a $300,000 loan which we will soon begin using to provide microloans in amounts at or below $50,000 to all qualified Sacramento-area entrepreneurs. We will also provide business training and technical assistance to prospective and actual borrowers, helping them become loan-ready clients, and to ensure their businesses remain strong after they've received the loan. While we will continue serving our refugee and immigrant base populations, we are expanding our services into all low-to-moderate income communities. This expansion will allow us to fill a critical gap in the Sacramento area's existing services.

  

Currently, loans in amounts under $100,000 are extremely difficult to obtain for small businesses, in part because of the costs involved. It's essentially as expensive for banks to lend out microloans in only the tens of thousands (or less) as it is for them to provide financing in the hundreds of thousands (or more). For this reason, banks typically avoid lending in amounts under $200,000, and thus fail to serve the needs of many small business owners and entrepreneurs looking to start or expand businesses. For these microenterprise entrepreneurs, a small loan of only $20,000 could mean the difference between expanding a business or allowing it to stagnate, launching a dream for a better future or watching that dream go unfulfilled.

  

Small businesses employing four persons or less, with a gross annual income of less than $200,000, are the largest employers in the nation. According to the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, a nonprofit focused on the development of U.S. microenterprise, if just one out of every three of these small businesses were to employ only one more person, all unemployment in the United States would be eliminated. Strengthening and developing microenterprises here in the Sacramento area would have the same impact. In the four-county Sacramento region, microenterprises account for 89% of all business in the area, or roughly 50,000 local firms. Expanding even a small fraction of these businesses would have an immediate impact on our community's economic development.

  

Opening Doors is in a unique position to fill the gap, thanks to our years of experience providing microloans and training to refugee borrowers, our well-established and successful MoneyWork$ program, and the relationships we already have in the community. We anticipate that our financial institution and community organization partners, as well as our area's other microenterprise assistance providers, will provide us with a steady stream of referrals. We expect that those entrepreneurs who come to us for loans but have personal financial issues that prevent them from being credit-worthy, can be referred to MoneyWork$ where they can turn their situations around. Ultimately, we will enable our clients to get control of their personal finances, become credit-worthy, build microenterprises and grow them such that they make serious contributions to the economic well-being of our region.

  

Our mission at Opening Doors is to help underserved members of our community become self-sufficient and increase their assets. Expanding our Prosperity Project Microenterprise Loan program allows us to continue fulfilling our mission while making an impact on the economic stability of our community at large.

  

Our MoneyWork$ Program: Helping Community Members Succeed

 

MoneyWork$ Graduation
Photos from our recent MoneyWork$ Spanish cohort graduation
  

MoneyWorksIn January of 2011, Opening Doors began our first MoneyWork$ cohort, armed with our belief that providing a program of financial education along with the tools for examining and changing financial habits could make a difference in our community. Now four cohorts have graduated, a fifth will finish soon, and 87 participants have increased their savings, decreased their debt, and/or improved their financial management skills and behaviors.

 

Some participants come to MoneyWork$ to learn more about the US financial system; others come because they are struggling with debt, want to learn how to manage on a reduced income, or need to find ways to save. All come because they want to build better lives for themselves and their families.

 

When participants enroll in MoneyWork$ they make a commitment to attend all five individual financial coaching sessions and most of the 15 evening sessions, to do the required homework such as tracking daily expenses and creating a budget, and to pay a participation fee of $50. They start with a coaching session where they identify financial goals and begin putting in place a roadmap to reach their goals. During sessions they hear guest presenters from financial institutions, nonprofits, and government agencies discussing a broad range of issues such as ways of saving, dealing with debt, taxes, and our relationship with money. They participate in hands-on workshops where they read their credit reports, create budgets, and explore the motivations behind spending impulses. Through this process, they bond and provide each other with advice, support, and accountability in sticking with the plans they have set for themselves. Coaching sessions continue to keep them focused on their goals and to help them overcome barriers to reaching them. Upon completion of the program, graduating participants are awarded $100 (double their participation fee) to help build their savings

 

In the past year, MoneyWork$ graduates have achieved a variety of personal and financial goals that were previously out of reach. They have reduced personal debt, paid off outstanding bills, built emergency funds, and eliminated needless expenses. In a March 28 interview with CBS Sacramento (Channel 13) focusing on MoneyWork$, program graduate William Ferris reported that he has been able to pay off two credit cards and convert the money spent on credit card debt into his savings. Graduate Dianne Segura was also able to pay down debt, build a savings account, and get her spending in check. There have been memorable success stories with each of our MoneyWork$ cohorts. Previous graduate Sandy Belio, a client who originally came to Opening Doors in search of a small business loan and was subsequently referred to MoneyWork$, found that after completing the program she had saved enough money that she no longer needed the loan.

 

People who have been following Opening Doors for a long time know that we originally began as a refugee resettlement agency in the early 1990s. This work lead to the creation of our Microenterprise program as our refugee clients indicated they wanted help with starting or expanding small businesses. Additionally, many of our immigrant microenterprise clients were eager to learn more about the U.S. financial system. The microenterprise work in turn gave birth to MoneyWork$. For many microenterprise owners, trouble with personal finances translates directly to trouble with business finances. To address this issue, we initially offered financial management information through formal classes. However, we soon discovered more was necessary, as people also needed the tools and support that would help them change their financial habits.

 

The ties between MoneyWork$ and our Microenterprise program continue to remain strong. Often clients are turned down for business loans because their personal finances aren't in order; nevertheless, through MoneyWork$ they can begin turning that situation around. Like Sandy, many of the people who come to the program either have their own businesses, or one of their goals is to start their own businesses. MoneyWork$ provides these clients with the strong foundational tool they need to be successful.

 

The response to the MoneyWork$ program has been overwhelmingly positive, from participants and from the community at large. We have received financial support from United Way, CitiBank, Bank of the West, US Bank, and Rabobank. Other financial institutions, companies, and nonprofits have provided in-kind support such as guest speakers, venue space, food, and advertising. Maria and Jaime Perez, who were graduates of our first Spanish-language MoneyWork$ cohort, are owners of the business, El Mana Catering. They are so enthusiastic about the program that they have provided an at-cost banquet for not just their own, but also for each of the subsequent Spanish-language MoneyWork$ graduation ceremonies.

 

The strong support MoneyWork$ has received is a direct result of the fact that this is a program that benefits the entire community. According to Debra DeBondt, our Deputy Director and one of the founders of the MoneyWork$ program, "As a nation and individually we are all trying to learn techniques to tighten our belts," and MoneyWork$ is a tool that helps us do that. Since Opening Doors' clients have traditionally been from immigrant groups, we already have ties to those communities; however, through MoneyWork$, we are building ties to American-born communities as well. Achieving self-sufficiency and empowering individuals to reach personal financial goals so they can build better lives for themselves and their families are community-wide issues. Opening Doors has made it our mission to address these issues, and thanks to the MoneyWork$ program, we are doing just that.

 

RHEAP Provides English Language, Employment, and Health Skills for New Iraqis

 

Left: Russul Tawffeq, RHEAP Program Manager
Right: RHEAP participants in class and children doing activities

 

RHEAPHere at Opening Doors, we recognize that helping refugees find a sense of home in America takes much more than just providing them with a place to stay. Cultural differences and language barriers often slow the process of integrating into the American community.

 

In order to aid Iraqi refugees seeking employment, Emily Feuerherm, a UC Davis doctoral candidate, started the Refugee Employment Attainment Program (REAP) in 2010. This original program offered classes that integrated information about American workplace culture and job-seeking skills with English language instruction. Classes were taught by volunteer certified-ESL instructors. After class, refugees had the opportunity to pair up with volunteer tutors on a one-on-one basis to work on their resumes and practice their English and interview skills.

 

Meanwhile, our case managers working with refugees continued to notice other issues in the Iraqi refugee community that were left unaddressed. We conducted interviews with Iraqi men and women and held focus groups to better understand some of those problems. After gathering the responses, we came up with two new goals for REAP: to increase the women's access to our program, and to address the health needs of the refugees. REAP then underwent its transformation into the Refugee Health and Employment Attainment Program (RHEAP). With support from Church World Service and a Preferred Communities grant, we hired Russul Tawffeq to lead RHEAP as program manager.

 

Since coming in as program manager, Russul has played a tremendous role in the success of RHEAP. Russul's own scarring experiences as a refugee drive her devotion to her job. She left her entire life in Iraq behind when faced with threats to her and her family during the war. She fled to Syria, but life for refugees in Syria was extremely difficult, so she was happy to eventually be given permission to come to the U.S. as a refugee. Once in Sacramento, she began volunteering with the Mesopotamia Association (MESA), which is an organization dedicated to helping Iraqi refugees seek economic stability. Aside from her duties as the secretary of MESA, she was responsible for acting as an interpreter and assisting refugees with appointments with doctors, their children's teachers, and other professionals.

 

As a response to the health needs of the refugees, Russul brought in Leman Zeki, a well-known nutritionist and health educator in the Iraqi community, to help create a comprehensive curriculum about healthy living. Leman, a graduate from Columbia University, put together a course in Arabic that teaches refugees how to incorporate healthy habits into their lifestyles as well as how to properly access and navigate the healthcare system. Since the Iraqi community suffers from high rates of hypertension, diabetes, and anemia, Leman added a segment that teaches healthy substitutions for the Iraqi diet. The class includes a meal cooked by students, implementing the healthier methods they have just learned.

 

Russul stresses the importance of reaching out to Iraqi youth and encouraging them to give back to the community, particularly by volunteering with RHEAP. Iraqi youth participate by helping to tutor children with their homework and engaging in mentoring for the beginner ESL students. The youth also help with food preparation and clean up. This volunteering experience, Russul says, will make the Iraqi youth more well-rounded individuals and better candidates for finding other work and volunteering opportunities in the future.

 

RHEAP also offers a program for children that engages them in fun, healthy living activities and educates them about food and exercise choices. Volunteers help children with homework, which is especially useful to parents whose English is not yet advanced enough to provide such assistance. RHEAP has now successfully expanded its audience from a predominantly-male crowd to a more family-based program.

           

Though still a new program, RHEAP has already developed a sense of community; many volunteer tutors have formed long-term friendships with the refugees and participants have also created lasting bonds with each other. Russul hopes to reach out to more of the Iraqi community to let people know that there is such a program which serves their interests.

 

RHEAP is largely dependent upon volunteers - the more there are, the more personalized experience we can provide for the refugees. If you would like more information on how you can help or what you can donate, please visit our website.

 

Thank you for following our work. Together we can make a difference in the lives of refugees, survivors of human trafficking  and other underserved residents in the Greater Sacramento region. If you would like to volunteer or make a donation, please click here

Sincerely,

 


David Blicker

Executive Director
Opening Doors, Inc.