Weekly workshops provide support to Ukrainian refugees as U.S. adds to resettlement programs

[anvplayer video=”5159790″ station=”998122″]

Each Friday in a classroom at the Ukrainian American Community Center (UACC) in Minneapolis, refugees learn about employment, health care, community resources and other critical services.

“It is very important for us to get the basic understanding how to survive here, how to find education, how to find place to live, how to find food resources,” said Iryna Petrus, who arrived in Minnesota from Ukraine in May. “It’s all new to us.”

The weekly Community Orientation Workshops are a collaboration between the UACC, the International Institute of Minnesota, the Minnesota Council of Churches and the Minnesota Resettlement Programs Office.

This week’s focus was employment. Families and individuals who recently arrived the United States learned about networking, the job interview process and the cultural differences they may face when entering the U.S. workforce.

“When people are first arriving, they are usually waiting on their employment authorization, that’s usually the first barrier,” said Kaija Bergen, a Community Orientation Workshop instructor.

Petrus told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS she waited eight months to receive her work permit.

“It was tough to survive, mainly emotionally because when you are well established professional in Ukraine so inside you’re fighting, ‘I want to work, I want to be productive, I want to do something,’” she said. “As soon as I got my work permit, I was looking for job opportunities.”

Petrus was hired as the community outreach manager at UACC.

“Every human being wants to be valued, wants to feel productive and get up in the morning and say ‘I want to do something for myself, and my family and for someone else’,” she said.

Petrus called the weekly workshops “fundamentally important” in helping others get on their feet when they arrive to the Twin Cities.

Bergen instructed Friday’s class with the assistance of a translator.

“A lot of people, I think, are worried about their family members overseas and then just figuring out how to become an independent person here in the United States,” Bergen said. “There are a lot of things to get in order when you first arrive.”

While resettlement agencies have primarily held the role of welcoming refugees, the federal government has now launched a new program to expand the contributions of private citizens.

The Welcome Corps program allows a group of at least five American citizens or permanent residents sponsor the resettlement of refugees. The U.S. Department of State hopes to mobilize 10,000 Americans to help 5,000 refugees during the first year.

It will be rolled out in two phases, according to the State Department. First, private sponsors will be matched with refugees whose cases are already approved for resettlement under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Those matches will be facilitated during the first six months of 2023, according to the State Department.

In mid-2023, the second phase of the program will allow private sponsors to identify refugees to refer to the USRAP for resettlement and then support them.

Executive Director of International Institute of Minnesota Jane Graupman explained the private sponsors will, “have to raise money to support the program, have to do all of the work or some of the work refugee resettlement agencies do in the beginning phase of resettlement.”

According to the Welcome Corps website, sponsors will need to raise a minimum of $2,275 in cash and in-kind contributions per refugee they welcome.

Graupman said International Institute is prepared to be a resource for those who participate in the new program.

“It’s really a great compliment to the work that we’re doing,” she said.

Petrus is welcoming the change as well.

“I am very thankful people do open their hearts, their home. […] People are getting so united and I’m very thankful for that. It’s a new era,” she said.

UACC is open every Friday from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. for walk-in services to refugees.