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January 15, 2015 

Dear IRCO Friend,


Happy New Year! We served more than 33,000 refugee, immigrant and mainstream community members in 2014, and we are excited to see what lies ahead in 2015.  


Thank you so much for supporting IRCO! We exceeded our expectations with Give!Guide donations, but are only at 80% of our goal for our Annual Holiday Appeal. We still need support from our committed partners like you to help newly arrived refugees find jobs, empower students still learning English to stay in school, and keep our gang-affected youth off the streets.


Over 90% of your donations go directly to IRCO's programs. Your gifts make a world of difference! If you haven't had a chance to donate yet, please consider a gift!


Take a moment to read about some of our programs and clients and the many ways that you can get involved at IRCO!

IRCO Client Spotlight

Where Empowerment and Self-Sufficiency Grow


"I used to be a sector leader in camp and seen as a respected person," says Lok Subba, a Bhutanese refugee who resettled in Portland from a Nepalese camp with his family two years ago. "All of these things changed after coming here. I had no job and no one viewed me as a community leader anymore."

Like many newly arrived refugees and immigrants, Lok's first year in the U.S. was full of frustration and anxiety, and he felt that solutions were beyond his control. He struggled to communicate with his wife who is hard of hearing. He needed to care for her and their young daughter and was caught in conflict with his older son. He wanted a job, but with his family obligations and limited English, regular full-time work seemed impossible.

Through IRCO's RIFE program, Lok began attending American Sign Language class with his wife as well as his own ESL classes. He learned conflict resolution skills at RIFE's Building Strong Families workshop. Because he'd spent his life working as a farmer, IRCO's Microenterprise Development Services connected him to a community garden and his own plot. Now Lok sells his vegetables at farmers markets and to staff and clients in IRCO's parking lot.

"I can't work the long hours standing kind of job, but I got the kind of work that I wanted to do, where I am free to think and decide my work hours," Lok says. "I received my first paycheck because of the garden. I am also helping others to learn farming and enterprising skills." Along with his vegetables, Lok's confidence is growing in a place that feels like home.

IRCO Staff Spotlight

Welcome to IRCO! 


Want to take a quick trip around the world? Come visit us at IRCO. Stand in our lobby and surround yourself with the most diversity you can find in Oregon. Close your eyes and listen.


Are you entering the doors of the United Nations? On a bus high in the Himalayas? You must be shopping in a market in Havana! Do you hear that? Is that Farsi? Spanish? Karen? Oromo? Now open your eyes. Did you miss the people using sign language? But that isn't American Sign Language -- it's Bhutanese Sign Language!


Every day people walk into our buildings having recently arrived from halfway around the globe. One hundred years ago immigrants arrived through places like Ellis Island and Angel Island. Today they are welcomed, empowered and assisted with dignity and respect in our community-based organizations.


When we say we are "community-based," we mean it: IRCO's staff speak 75 different languages and 80% arrived themselves as immigrants or refugees. Not only do we come from all over the world, but some of us are physicians, restaurant owners, avid mountain climbers, and musicians. To serve our incredible clients, we've assembled a one-of-a-kind team of community leaders. Welcome to IRCO! 

IRCO Programs: Where Does the Money Go?

This year IRCO was awarded over $8 million in grants - money that helps us enhance and continue more than 100 programs and services for people of all ages from all communities seeking success and self-sufficiency here in Portland. We are grateful to all of our funders who believe in IRCO's work and share our mission. Take a look at all the places this money goes!

Upcoming Events

January 17 

5:00-10:00 pm 

African Women's Leadership Forum

January 24 

8:00 am-12:00 pm 

Somali Community Outreach Day

January 30
5:30-8:00 pm
Night at the Portland Children's Museum:
FREE for all IRCO families: clients, staff and volunteers!
January 31
2:00-4:00 pm
Arts & Crafts Fair
June 5
Africa House
Madison HOSTS Reading Nights
Madison High School Library 5:30-7:00 pm
1/27, 2/24, 3/31, 4/28, 5/26
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Outstanding Volunteer: 
Marcus Woods


"I work with the PET program as a classroom assistant, helping the teacher with English interview skills. I find that many times I am one of the first people that the clients meet in this country who is not a service provider.
I am just a normal guy off the street and I try to bring that perspective into
the classroom.
I have nothing but admiration for the people who are  coming to IRCO.

My grandparents were Eastern European immigrants who came around the turn of the century. They did not speak English and were poor. Walking into class is like walking through the looking glass and brings me to a place where I
am very comfortable and have spent
most of my life."

Upcoming Volunteer Orientations

February 11

12:00-1:00 pm 


February 25
6:00-7:00 pm 

IRCO is now part of Fred Meyer's Community Rewards program! Just link your Rewards Card to IRCO and Fred Meyer will donate money to IRCO every time you shop!

If you don't have a Rewards Card, you can sign up online or at any Fred Meyer Store.
Link your Rewards Card to IRCO here. IRCO's Community Rewards number is 94496.

IRCO Clients Head to Alaska for Fishing Jobs


This December, 42 IRCO clients flew from Seattle to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, for seasonal jobs in the fish processing industry. The majority of the workers are from Burma, Somalia and other African countries. They endure harsh weather conditions, intense work schedules and 20 hours of darkness per day.

The days are long and the elements extreme, but in 1 to 5 months, they can earn good money - enough to pay back their loans, buy a car or cover living expenses - and enhance their U.S. resumes.

Saida, a 30-year-old woman from Somalia, has worked in Alaska for three seasons in her two years in the U.S. With the skills she gained in Alaska, she found a job as a fish processor in Portland. Saida is single and has no family in the area, but she paid off her debt and has gained the independence that she's long dreamed of.

Over the past two fishing seasons, IRCO's RIFE, EES, and NAES programs have sent more than 100 clients to work in Alaska.


For more information, or to donate warm jackets for the next Alaska-bound group, contact Karen Smith at or

Local Companies Hire
Help New Portlanders


In 2004, Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co. hired its first employee from IRCO. Ten years later, they have provided jobs to nearly 60 IRCO clients -- newly arrived refugees and immigrants like Shatha Ali. 

"I was worried about finding a job here in the U.S., but IRCO connected me to Schoolhouse Electric and provided me with an opportunity to learn new skills," said Shatha, a refugee from Iraq who now works as Schoolhouse's Component Team Lead. "I now have a career and really enjoy being a part of the Schoolhouse family."


"IRCO has introduced us to dozens of great people," said Andrew Bohl, Director of Manufacturing. "Along with many of our other IRCO hires, Shatha has helped us build our business. She plays a key role in our daily success and we're thankful she joined our team." 


IRCO's Refugee Employment Services (NAES and EES) placed almost 1,400 individuals in jobs last year, and each year we add more than 100 new employers to our network of local partners.


To learn more about hiring IRCO clients, contact Mo Sangsam at or 971-271-6439.

IRCO's Immigration and 
Counseling Services


Because he was a senior, Ahmed Abdi received social security assistance when he arrived in the U.S. from Somalia. He studied English to prepare for his citizenship test but failed and lost the benefits that his entire family relied on. Then Ahmed met with an IRCO immigration counselor, who helped him apply for a medical waiver.

IRCO's Immigration and Counseling Services program provides certified assistance to immigrants and refugees at an accessible rate, a major need in our communities. Since it started in early 2014, the program has provided more than 120 individuals with immigration services, including permanent resident status adjustment, citizenship applications, family reunification, and green card replacements.

After living in the U.S. for eight years, Ahmed finally became an American citizen and regained his social security benefits. "Thank you for bringing my life back to me," Ahmed said. "For the first time in my life I have voted in an election. God Bless IRCO and God Bless America."

For more information contact Abdiasis Mohamed at or 971-271-6555.

Get to Know IRCO's Board of Directors!

Chanpone Sinlapasai-Okamura, Board Vice President, is an attorney and partner at Marandas & McClellan, where she focuses on immigration law and specializes in assisting survivors of crime. Chanpone is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, with whom she organizes the annual Refugee Adjustment Day at IRCO, a free immigration clinic that helps new refugees apply for green cards and permanent resident status. She was recently recognized for her work as the recipient of the 2014 FBI Director's Community Leadership Award. "I am a refugee from Laos and I say the word 'refugee' with pride," Chanpone said in her acceptance speech. "Through the sacrifices of my family and the communities that I serve, I have learned that the word 'refugee' does not limit me or others like me - it empowers me."

An agency started by refugees for refugees, IRCO is still run largely by members of the diverse communities we serve - 9 of IRCO's 11 Board Members are former immigrants, refugees or asylees. Get to know more about all of IRCO's Board Members here!

10301 NE Glisan St.
Portland, OR 97220
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