Stories of Service


By: admin


“Helping new immigrants like me was my dream”

Since 2021, more than 1.5 million Afghans have left Afghanistan. Somaya is one of them, and like hundreds of others, she arrived—and decided to stay—in Minnesota. During her first year here, she’s been serving in Resettlement Corps, where she connects fellow refugees and immigrants to employment opportunities.

“I came here as a refugee, have the life of a new refugee, and can understand all the problems, especially for those who don’t know English,” she explained. “You’re encountering different beliefs and a different culture.”

Her experience as a refugee is on top of an already impressive résuméShe has an MBA and an accounting certification; she also has work experience in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Women in Government project. She’s fluent in English as well as Persian and Pashto, the two languages most spoken in Afghanistan. “I’m lucky to have been able to study and work,” she said. “Most of our Afghan people don’t have those opportunities.”

Knowing her unique experiences, talents, and natural empathy, a friend already living here told Somaya about Resettlement Corps. She was interested immediately. “Helping new immigrants like me and creating changes in their lives was my dream,” she said.

Serving refugees and immigrants every step of the way

During the 2021 arrival of Afghan refugees in Minnesota, the Department of Human Services (DHS) asked ServeMinnesota how AmeriCorps could help. ServeMinnesota launched a pilot program in which AmeriCorps members help Afghan refugees navigate life in Minnesota, helping the newcomers access housing, employment, and education. The pilot program was part of a statewide effort led by DHS to support the Afghan refugees.

The pilot program was a resounding success, so ServeMinnesota launched a full program, Resettlement Corps, the following year. AmeriCorps members who serve in Resettlement Corps support immigrant and refugee families arriving in Minnesota. Like Somaya, many of the people serving with Resettlement Corps are immigrants or refugees themselves.

With Resettlement Corps, Somaya helps connect immigrants and refugees to employment. At her host organization, the Minnesota Council of Churches (MCC) Refugee Services program, she enrolls participants – called “clients” – in the Employment Achievement Resettlement Network (EARN) hosted by the MCC. Her clients have come to Minnesota from all over the world, including Burma, Mexico, Somalia, Afghanistan, Spain, and Ethiopia. Somaya loves what she does – she calls the day she interviewed for Resettlement Corps “the best day of my life.”

Somaya supports each new client as they enroll in EARN and create a résumé, which many clients have never had before. Then, they work together on online job searches and applications — also an entirely new experience for many clients who have never used a computer. “We search for many jobs for each person, and I will go to interviews with them, sometimes two or three times,” she said.

Once a client is hired, Somaya accompanies them to orientation and training, helps them set up reliable transportation with bus passes or gas cards, and purchases work shoes or required uniforms. MCC then provides an interpreter for the client’s first week or two on the job as needed.

Her clients are now working in jobs at organizations that include a health care linen and laundry service, printing companies, assisted living communities, and retail stores (one client, she reports proudly, has already been asked to apply for a promotion).

“The job is interesting day by day, solving new problems.”

Somaya’s language skills are in great demand throughout Resettlement Corps. She often accompanies other members on home visits, where she acts as an interpreter and can assist with issues like obtaining benefits or enrolling children in school. “For clients who come here with no English, it’s comfortable for them to find someone from their own country. They share problems with me, and I help.”

“One client had a problem needing to pay the Xcel Energy bill but didn’t know how,” she said. “I had to explain that they would get a bill in the mail, and it would arrive in their mailbox. Then I explained what a mailbox is.”

After serving, Somaya hopes to return eventually to a position that uses her expertise in finance and accounting. She recently completed a 12-week leadership class through the International Institute of Minnesota (and hosted a graduation party to celebrate her achievement). In the meantime, she’s honored to be part of Resettlement Corps.

“It’s an interesting part of my life, to be part of a group that can create change in the life of people who need our help and support,” she said. “The job is interesting day by day, solving new problems. It gives me a better feeling for my life — not only helping with employment but also working on teamwork and policy, home visits, apartment setup, and grocery shopping.

“One of my colleagues, in our weekly staff meeting, said ‘Somaya is so good for us!’”

Interested in serving with AmeriCorps? Check out Resettlement Corps and our other programs. If you’ve got questions, reach out to our recruitment team.

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