Friday, May 6, 2011

Is USCRI Albany a successful organization?


NOTE -- DATE DECEMBER 7, 2016. THIS BLOG POST HAS BEEN RECEIVING A GREAT DEAL OF ATTENTION LATELY DUE TO A RECENT PROBLEM I HAD WITH SOME EMPLOYEES OF USCRI WHILE TEACHING AN ESL CLASS. (This problem is hinted at in my November 2016 post on ESL classes and fundamentalist Muslims.)  FOR THE RECORD, WHILE I CONSIDER IT AN ACCURATE DESCRIPTION OF THE CENTER WHEN WRITTEN, MY IMPRESSION IS THINGS ARE A BIT BETTER NOW. I ALSO HOPE THAT PEOPLE WHO LOOK AT THIS POST WILL ALSO TAKE THE TIME TO DO A SEARCH ON THE LABELS "REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT" AND "REFUGEES" AND THEN TAKE THE TIME TO READ ON TOPICS SUCH AS GETTING REFUGEES INTO COLLEGE, COLLECTING FURNITURES FOR REFUGEES, AND TIPS ON TEACHING THEM DRIVING. ONE REASON BEGAN WRITING ABOUT REFUGEES ON THIS BLOG IS BECAUSE, AS DESCRIBED HERE, THE LOCAL REFUGEE CENTER, USCRI-ALBANY, HAD NO INSTITUTIONAL MEMORY AND GREAT OVERTURN AND EVERYONE WAS ALWAYS STARTING THEIR JOBS AT BASE ZERO. I THOUGHT I WOULD SHARE WHAT I WOULD LEARN IN THE HOPES THAT THE REFUGEES AND REFUGEE HELPERS WERE BOTH BETTER SERVED.



This is an important question that people should ask. Not only does the organization receive large amounts of government funding, resettle large numbers of people, but it also sends a signal to the outside world that it is THE place to send refugees in need of care.

In other words, more than once when I have taken refugees to places like the New York State One-stop Job Center, the state mandated and tax funded office that is supposed to assist all legal residents of the area with job-hunting, the secretary or someone else has suggested to me that I take the person, the refugee in need of work, down to the refugee center as this is supposed to be THEIR job. However, being familiar with the refugee center (and its very dedicated but completely overwhelmed job placement people)I know darn well that that is not an effective solution. In other words, the existence of the refugee center (USCRI-Albany) gives many people in social services the feeling that things are being taken care of when anyone familiar with the refugee center (USCRI-Albany) knows that they are not being handled properly.

Not too long ago a refugee invited me to attend an event where a spokesperson for USCRI-Albany stated that USCRI-Albany is an organization that helps refugees when they come to our area. In fact, USCRI-Albany is an organization that invites refugees to our area, promises the state department they will care for them, receives payment for doing so from the state department, and then, sometimes, only sometimes, actually cares for them in a responsible manner.

Critics will point out that although the State Department does contract and fund these services the actual amount received per refugee is not very much. Not nearly enough to do the required job? So, they might say, what's the big deal.

Well, if one looks into USCRI-Albany and its parent organization you soon discover that its head, Lavinia Limon, makes about $200,000 a year, arguably in line with that of CEOs of other not-for-profits, but inarguably that's $200,000 that does not go to helping refugees. (And then there's also employment for Peter Limon, another employee of USCRI, who may or may not be a relative.) Therefore, and you can ask around and check on this yourself, it seems that although USCRI-Albany is not terribly good at providing services for refugee families in desperate need, it actually quite well at taking care of the Limon family down in Washington D.C.

So to who else does USCRI-Albany consistently provide real benefit?

College interns. These come and go in the midst of the chaos and they get to set up some really great programs and build up a wonderful resume. Unfortunately, as often as not, within six months after they leave, the programs fall apart but that's okay because this provides an opportunity for the programs to be re-built and recreated and therefore add to someone else's resume.

Some might note that in a previous exchange a youth named Una Hardester proudly posted about a valid sounding USCRI-Albany program to work against housing discrimination for refugees. Note that this program is long gone. This is the pattern down at USCRI-Albany. Although things regularly fall apart this is actually a bonus for the program if we see it not as an agency designed to provide services for refugees but instead as an agency intended to assist college students who wish an exciting and rewarding internship.

Same for the improvements I attempted to install in the furniture program. Long gone, fallen apart, someone somewhere someday will rebuild them although in a slightly different form, put them on his or her resume and tell others about their wonderful internship with this program, and then, inevitably, they will collapse into dust again.

This is the pattern.

Meanwhile the young, 20-something dedicated employees are stuck in the middle of this mess assuming that this is inevitably the way things should be. Too busy to tell their central office they need more warning before refugees arrive, and too fearful of their jobs to tell the central office that maybe they cannot provide contracted services if they have no control over the number of people who arrive.

Not to mention, the refugees who are usually scared to death at the very thought of filing a complaint against someone who controls the future of their family and handles their green card applications.

Alas, alas.