New documentaries detail refugee contributions to the local workforce
While the world struggles to find the best solution to the refugee crisis, northeast Ohio resettlement agencies are finding ways to match local employers with skilled refugees to help build a productive and loyal workforce. Their success is the theme of several short documentaries, produced by Cleveland filmmakers and recently screened at an event sponsored by the Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland (RSC).
“The people we’ve hired, without exception, have a tremendous work ethic,” Sal Geraci, Chief Operating Officer of National Safety Apparel (NSA), told one filmmaker. “Their work ethic is contagious.” NSA is one of the employers featured in the short documentaries, which were produced with funding from the Community West Foundation.
The documentaries are part of a outreach effort to educate business and civic leaders about the value of refugees to the local economy. They are intended for public showing to generate discussion and interest among community and business leaders.
RSC previously released a study concluding that refugee resettlement here generated $48 million in total annual economic activity in 2012, supported 650 jobs in Cuyahoga County, and spawned nearly $2.8 million in taxes for state and local authorities. The new documentaries, featuring local refugees who became entrepreneurs and employers who benefit from refugee hires, tell the stories behind the numbers.
According to Maureen Pansky, Human Resources Manager at Oatey Company, refugees make ideal employees with “consistent and commendable attendance, enthusiasm for learning the job, pride in a job well-done, and loyalty and gratitude to the company. These traits are seen across the very diverse languages, ethnicities and faith traditions that our newcomers bring with them to the workplace. It’s truly inspiring and humbling.”
Anees Alnaseri, an Iraqi refugee who came to Cleveland in 2009, was able to build a successful tool and die manufacturing company in Willoughby and now hires other refugees: “Refugees are key players in our economy. To have a job, you must have craftsmanship, proper education, passion for what you do and the will to continue.”
Bosnian refugee Marijana Bosiljcic resettled in Cleveland, attended cosmetology school and is now considered to be a model employee by her boss Sandy Borrelli at Bella Capelli Sanctuario in Westlake, who describes her as having “discipline beyond measure. She has created the benchmark for retail.”
With nearly 1,000 refugees expected to arrive in Cleveland this year, it is a priority of the resettlement agencies to find new employment opportunities. “We want to make sure that those who are seeking a safe and peaceful community here can also find meaningful work, so they may achieve economic self-sufficiency contribute to their own families and communities,” says Brian Upton, Executive Director of Building Hope in the City, one of the resettlement agencies.
Oatey’s Pansky is already on board: “Our recent arrivals may be ‘new’ to our communities and workforce but they represent the essential lifeblood that continues to renew our country and Cleveland in particular. We are all uplifted by the determination and perseverance that our new arrivals bring with them. Somewhere in our respective ancestral trees, we were all once newcomers too.”
Kafaya’s Kitchen: Features a Somalian refugee who came to Cleveland in 2006, a single mother with 7 children. She eventually opened her own restaurant on Cleveland’s west side, employing other refugees and attracting dozens of refugees and non-refugees to sample her amazing food. Watch it here.
Beating the Odds: Features a young Syrian refugee who fled to Jordan and arrived in Cleveland just over a year ago. He is now a valued employee at Jack’s Casino, and grateful for a community that has welcomed him and allowed him to thrive both professionally and personally. Watch it here.
Fatima: Features an Afghani refugee who has helped to create a highly productive and valued refugee workforce at a local Cleveland company. She came to Cleveland in 2003 with her five children. Using skills acquired in Afghanistan, she filled a talent gap at the company and is now a supervisor and trainer for new employees. Watch it here.
Crossing the Bridge: Features a Bosnian refugee who came to Cleveland more than a decade ago. She attended cosmetology school here and is now married, has a young daughter, and is the model employee whose boss says sets the bar higher for everyone. Watch it here.
Narayan Adhikari: Narayan Adhikari, now a LPN at the Cleveland Clinic, discusses the challenges and successes he and his family experienced as refugees transitioning from Bhutan to a new life in the United States of America. Watch it here.