World Refugee Day: Showing Solidarity and Support
June 20 is World Refugee Day, meant to honor all people who have had to flee conflict or persecution in their home countries, seeking safety in new ones. This day has officially been on the United Nations calendar since 2001 as a way to recognize and celebrate the courage, contributions, and resilience of refugees, while raising awareness around world conflict.
Among those refugees in the international spotlight right now are those from Ukraine, who have traveled to many parts of the globe for safety. Here in Washington, the most Ukrainian refugees can currently be found in King County and Snohomish County. Whether they arrived last year or last week, they’re writing a new life chapter for themselves and their families, with overwhelming adjustments and things to learn.
A safe place to work at Era Living
As they search for homes, refugees are also immediately confronted with the responsibility of supporting their families in an unfamiliar place. It requires navigating the already-stressful job application process in a language that they might not be fluent in. This is one area where Era Living is proud to help them transition. Era Living’s hiring practices include considering candidates without experience, or, as in the case of most refugees, without experience that can be easily verified. Because of this practice, University House Issaquah now counts six hardworking Ukrainians among their newest employees. It’s a system that’s worked out for everyone.
“We worked closely with our HR department to properly hire those who came seeking employment,” says University House Issaquah Executive Director Susan Vahlkamp.
“The first employee we hired from Ukraine then spread the word to other refugees, which resulted in five others joining our team! I think this speaks to the supportive and safe environment we provide.”
And this group of Ukrainians haven’t just worked hard at their jobs — they’ve collaborated to help each other learn and do well.
“I also noticed how hard the first person we hired worked to help train and onboard the people they referred,” says Susan. “They were able to work together to create task sheets in Ukrainian and helped translate initially while everyone was learning English.”
“Their work ethic is off the charts,” says Patty Jacklin, director of Dining Services at University House Issaquah. “Our dining room service has grown bigger and better on so many levels [with] them employed here. They try so hard, and the residents have seen this and commented on it many times over.”
Building an inclusive, supportive community
All Era Living employees have an important impact on the residents’ lives, whatever their role. But the refugees bring a unique value to that relationship with their life experiences. Just their presence helps the residents and other staff see and understand from a new perspective the hardships of world conflict, like family separations, culture shock, language barriers, and the seeking of safety. It’s also a way for the residents to learn about and appreciate a bit of Ukrainian culture right in their own home.
“I think having these employees here has made everyone, both residents and staff, more aware of the war and what impact it is having on everyday people,” says Susan. “The opportunity to learn firsthand about a different culture is a unique experience and the residents have really embraced this opportunity by learning phrases in Ukrainian, asking questions, and being open to learning about their lives before coming here. Being able to also see firsthand how people [were] living in Ukraine before being able to make it here has been eye-opening for many.”
“The compassion that comes from our other younger staff members, [in] understanding the life these refugees had before here, is a great learning tool for anyone, especially young high school kids,” adds Patty. “And the residents of University House Issaquah have shown their appreciation [for these refugee employees] in many ways.”
You can learn more about World Refugee Day and supporting refugees in your city from the UN Refugee Agency.