Supporting over 600 refugees and immigrants each year in Albany, NY
Describe the need affecting community
The need in Albany is clear: Refugee families need long-term mentoring and education as they build new lives after experiences of trauma, dislocation, and relocation. About 400 refugees arrive annually in New York’s capital area. Over the past 10 years, New York State’s refugee population has grown by almost 400,000 and the majority of these individuals have settled in upstate New York . Of the ten counties that have experienced a more than 10% increase in their foreign born populations, Albany County is in the lead with a jump of over 48% in its foreign born individuals, compared to only a 6% growth rate in native born individuals over the same time period. Additionally, during the same period the number of Albany county individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) has increased by 82%- more than double the rate in the following 5 counties. The 600 or so individuals that RISSE serves every year meet the following criteria: • 70% unemployed • 20% underemployed • Minimum 80% recipients of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). Over 95% are English Language Learners. Jobs available to adults with limited English skills are few, do not pay well, and are often temporary, presenting a significant barrier to adults seeking to become self sufficient. The majority of RISSE’s constituency are new arrivals (being resident in Albany from 90 days to ~3 years), with little or no English skills. Many have not had the opportunity to attend formal schooling in their country of origin, as well. As a result, the logistical, cultural and technical demands of the classroom experience is entirely new to these learners, making it profoundly difficult for other adult education programs to register them into class, let alone attend to their unique and varied needs. The majority of youth served by RISSE (ages 5-15) are English Language Learners. Many were not privileged to attend school in their country of origin, attended infrequently, or had long breaks in their schooling. As a result, the classroom experience can be entirely new, and very challenging. For those that have not had a chance to “catch up” with their peers, the chances of attaining high school graduation falls dramatically. In Albany county, English as a Second Language (ESL) students are still well below the average student graduation rate (71%), at 31%. However, those that were enrolled in a specialized ESL or bilingual program graduated (sampled from a 2009 class) at nearly the same rate as their non ESL counterparts. Jobs available to students that do not graduate from high school are declining and very few pay wages sufficient to support a family beyond the lowest established poverty levels. These students have a greater risk of job instability, low lifetime earnings, poor health, unemployment, and prison. To compound the problem, many refugee and immigrant students’ parents and other family members have limited or no English skills, are unfamiliar with the American school system and culture, and are unable to adequately support their children’s education.
How will this Advance project help to address the need?
While a patchwork of services exists to serve these Refugees and Immigrants, RISSE is the only nonprofit agency in the region which provides a full range of comprehensive services under one roof (youth and adult educational programming, social supports, meals, childcare, employment placement and more) to refugee and immigrant families. Furthermore, RISSE’s experience and growing expertise in serving this community allows us to engage with our constituents and enact a lasting impact, where other projects may not. RISSE’s mission is to equip refugees and recent immigrants to build sustainable, independent lives by offering language and literacy instruction, as well as support with life skills and integration into the United States culture and community. Our vision is to create a community in which refugees and immigrants are able to create lives that are safe, satisfying and sustainable. We endeavor to promote our values through the work we do: -Empowerment – of families and individuals to build their lives in the U.S. – Community – encouraging refugee families to support and assist one another, while inviting community organizations, institutions, and churches to come together to strengthen the network of support. – Dignity – All services and activities of RISSE will promote dignity and self-determination for beneficiaries. RISSE has become within the refugee community as being a welcoming community center and “one stop shop”. Currently, RISSE serves over 250 families each year, representing 22+ countries. RISSE receives numerous referrals from adult education providers in Albany for learners that cannot be placed in their programs, due to their level being “too low”. RISSE is committed to serving all adults in need of ESL services, regardless of skill level, or disability. RISSE works to serve our constituents needs by providing comprehensive English Language learning for adults (including help with employment preparation, placement and ongoing support), as well as youth programming (after school) and a specialized summer school program (for the most recently arrived youth). In addition, RISSE provides the range of needed supportive services (described in more detail in the 2015, report). We believe that by working closely with our community, we can build trust and work together to help individuals and families become successfully integrated into their new lives here in the United States. Unlike other programs, RISSE provides comprehensive, culturally relevant and ongoing support to those in need.
Describe the primary goal of the project
In working towards our mission, RISSE has 5 general goals: 1 : Empower adults to be successful in their new homes in the united states by: learning English, becoming employed, and supporting their children’s education. 2 : Support children and youth success by helping them to learn English and achieve in school, and culturally, socially and emotionally adjust to life in the US (especially regarding their school experience). 3 : Build upon our program’s success/build on our momentum to strengthen our programmatic capacity, date and develop more enhanced methods for evaluating our programs. 4 : Strengthen our resource mobilization strategies by further diversifying our funding sources and number of sources. 5 : Continue to build and strengthen our network of support for our community.
Describe the change you would like to see in the community as a result of this Advance project
As a result of our work, we would like to see our community members have a greater agency and greater self determination. We expect to see this result as an outcome of our English language programs, our youth development (after school and summer) programming, and all of our supportive programs. More practically, we expect to see changes in rates or employment and retained employment. We expect to see children receive more support from their parents in their education, and also expect to see children begin to transition into school and do well at school (as well as have a positive school experience).