Dr. Amy Stumpf, professor of Christian ministries at California Baptist University, started an English teaching program in Riverside at the Palm Baptist Church as part of an ongoing mission to integrate refugees into the workforce.
Stumpf saw the need for such a program a few summers ago when she realized the refugee settlement program in Riverside County lacked necessary support.
She explained that the start of her program was anything but glamorous.
“When I started it, I was everything,” Stumpf said. “I would teach and drive; but then I had to turn it over to some other women who actually formed the non-profit Glocally Connected.”
During the school year, Stumpf helps as best she can by recruiting students to help with various activities the more formally organized, Glocally Connected needs, such as driving student refugees, child care and teaching.
Stumpf’s initial reasoning behind putting a lot of work into this program and helping refugees with their settlement is perhaps the greatest motivator for potential volunteers.
“There’s a need, so if there’s a need that I can meet, why would I not meet it?” Stumpf said.
There is an inherent challenge as refugees come to the United States with different levels of proficiency in English. Some, including former interpreters for the U.S. military, may know the language quite well, while others may have no grasp at all.
Even if their English is near perfect, many struggle to find classes for a variety of reasons including social issues concerning women and education, challenges having to do with time and the need for childcare. The problems for these men and women do not end once school is finished.
Stumpf noted many find difficulty in securing a professional job, as most settle for driving for Uber or local night security. Better integration is necessary, she said, because well-integrated people help the community grow as opposed to those who are disenfranchised.
Despite the difficulty, Stumpf acknowledges one particular refugee individual, a former interpreter for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, as a proud success story from this program. Although his English was excellent to begin with because of his profession, it is no small miracle that he now works as a welfare benefit case manager for Riverside.
Aside from students, Stumpf has found a way to include friends, family and other CBU faculty in the program, including Karen Shade, lecturer in computing software and data sciences.
Stumpf and Shade work toward the integration of refugees into the workforce as well as into the community. Currently, the two are planning a baby shower for one of the refugee women. Shade noted this social inclusion is just as crucial to the integration of refugees into American society.
“It’s important on a social level because it shows friendship and acceptance especially [for] our refugee women,” Shade said. “It’s a scary environment, so to feel like they have American friends that care about them and will advocate for them (is important).”
Although there are many helping refugees resettle, there are others opposed to such action who held the negative opinions of refugees once they have been resettled in the United States.
Stumpf acknowledges this and the detrimental effects on both the refugees and their communities, as those who do not contribute to the economy and acquire unemployment soon become a drain on the community.
“Well settled people make really strong communities,” Stumpf said.
As Stumpf continues to gather support for the cause and student volunteers, she laments much of what the program needs has to do with funding and supplies. Gas can take a toll on both the reserves of the program and the volunteers who offer to drive the English students to and from school.
There is a need for support as refugees are forced out of their home countries into the unknown, where they must carve out lives for themselves. Their integration, both social and economic, will help the communities they are placed in, or in turn, their rejection and disenfranchisement has the potential to hurt those same communities.