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.

14 comments:

  1. Peter Limon is Lavinia Limon's brother. It's a family operation all right. I'm a former employee. As we used to say, "When life gives you Limones, ...keep your head down and don't ask questions...or else..."

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  2. I found this post when searching USCRI because I wanted an internship there. What I've read is extremely unfortunate. I really want to work with refugee populations, but obviously I need a starting ground. Do you have any advice? I am just graduating from college, looking for real life experience. I live in New York (albany area) but would be willing to travel. This is a shot in the dark, but I thought it was worth asking. Any advice? Any help? Thanks for your time...

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  3. First, many people have had wonderful intern experiences at USCRI Albany. (In fact, I said this in the article.) And, I wish to say again, the staff is usually very dedicated (about two thirds, IMHO, although many are naive and in the wrong positions. The other one third is burnt out and keeping their jobs because this is the best job they can hope for. Often, but not always, these are the ones with few skill but a knowledge of exotic languages. When I worked there these idiots kept getting us threatened by the landlord because, well, they were idiots who did idiotic things and saw no need to follow the landlord's rules. i.e. they would throw furniture in places where the landlord had specifically told us not to put it, after being told that it was becoming a serious issue, and then think it was funny that they did so. Morons.) Just understand that the organization has several flaws thrust upon it by the national organization's policies. (i.e. taking as many refugees as possible with often less than a week's warning. This is completely unnecessary, as the refugees themselves are given a month's notice of their transfer, but it is the way USCRI does things.)

    Secondly, if you volunteer at USCRI, you will be helping refugees. And if you help refugees then you can often make a difference in their lives. I expect you will find the organization itself often more trouble than it's often worth, but you will be helping refugees.

    Thirdly, if you plan on staying in Albany, then you might contact the Emmaus Methodist Church or Catholic Family Services as they both provide services to refugees without too many strings attached. There are several other churches in the area that assist refugees but these often proselytize. (This is not, IMHO, quite as black and white an issue as it sounds. For instance, many Karen from Burma are evangelical Christians and approve whole-heartedly of proselytizing for their faith. Therefore they join a like minded church.)

    Refugees also attend the Burmese Buddhist temple in Rensellaer, the local mosques and, although I do not know, the few Hindus might have hooked up with the local Hindu temple. You might try calling upon them to see if they can guide you in the right direction. I think it's safe to say they would probably love to hear from someone who wishes to understand and help people like them.

    Also, Literacy Volunteers and other organizations are often providing needed services for refugees, including free English and GED tutoring.

    Somewhere on this blog is an out-of-date list of the organizations that bring in refugees from abroad. You could contact these organizations directly.

    idealist.org regularly posts many job and volunteer opportunities that involve refugees (as well as helping other kinds of people.)

    Fourthly, there are dozens or more of organizations that work with refugees all over the world. I do not claim to be an expert on these. They often would love to have an enthusiastic, skilled person who is willing to work for free. (Who wouldn't?) and you'd be doing good in the world.

    I really do not know how to go about researching these but in today's world it is easier to research them than ever before. I suggest, if nothing else seems to work, that you just try googling and reading blogs. You might try key words that include refugee "hot spots" like the Sudan or Mae Sot, Thailand.

    My guess is that as with most research, once you tap into the vein, and hit the first information and start digging and asking around, the information will flow. you've just got to find the network where people discuss these things. All the best and feel free to ask again if you need more assistance. All the best.

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    1. Another option is to search the Friends f Refugee blog and see what they have to say about different organizations.

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  4. I am very glade that you dare to write this Article. I know how USCRI is in general and this is what the actual situation. Great Job Mr. Huston.

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  5. I'm probably a little late with my comment but still-

    I worked as an intern for USCRI-Albany. It was a frustrating gig. I learned a lot, not by looking at what USCRI was doing right, but what it was doing wrong.

    Incredibly inefficient. Scatter-brained. Hardworking staff that's half burnt-out and half on their way out. Also, the casual racism that I found among the higher ranked people in the staff was terrifying.

    Refugees aren't children you need to coddle, USCRI. Sometimes, being honest and telling them the truth is enough.

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  6. Thank you, You are absolutely right. I know of at least one occasion after I left when a refugee friend of mine was called into Zoeanne Murphy's (the director of USCRI at the time) office and asked "Is Peter Huston telling refugees bad things about our office?" The truth is that there were uncounted times I defended her from refugees who said "She doesn't care about us. She just holds that job because she is paid so well and wants the money." I would regularly point out that Zoeanne Murphy cared deeply about what happened. She was just in over her head and had no idea what was going on or how to fix the problems that she was actually aware of and, yes, many people were suffering because of her incompetence but she was also known to literally cry over it. (Zoeanne Murphy was chosen by USCRI as an administrator because she is, in fact, a skilled photographer. --no lie. Follow that logic and maybe you, too, can become a USCRI administrator on the national level.)

    But the truth is, refugees LOVE to gossip. They do it all the time. It's like the only thing available to do when trapped in a refugee camp.

    Everything I've said here is absolutely minor compared to the accusations (both real and imagined) that I've heard refugees accuse USCRI of.

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  7. So, one must think twice before allwoing them to be his spounser, the plan I will be resetelled in Albany, what do you think am I need to ask to change??? or to stay with them??

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  8. Peter, BLESS YOU FOR WRITING THIS ARTICLE!
    it should be read by everyone and translated to every language.
    I used to work as an intern at USCRI Albany and let me tel you about the type of crap that goes on!
    The only people who are pulling their weight are volunteers. This place wouldnt exist without the dedication and the help of volunteers. They rely on volunteers.
    So lets get that out of the way because whne I speak of staff,Im talking about "paid staff".
    The paid staff that work there are the biggest pieces of trash on this planet. A lot of them were at some point refugees but they want to sit there and act like they dont empathize with other's situation. The staff that work there are in no position to hold any job. Their desks are covered in paper and they are highly disorganized. I wouldnt trust them to look after my purse,much less someone's case files. Their attitude is DISGUSTING! they act like theyre entitled to treat people like crap! everything has to go through the "interns" aka the slaves.
    Contacting one of these monsters requires you to go through their minions(interns). I will get to these interns later. Because they also need to be read! theyre not innocent!
    anywho, these case managers will rarely get to you. When they do get to you they talk down on you and acrt like they are PAPA/MAMA SUPERIOR! when in reality they arent anything. You are the bottom of the bottom. You were picked because of some type of connection,sympathy,miracle or you spoke a different language. And I heard some of them speak, one in particular has a slur and a lisp but wants to act like he'sbetter than somebody. Case managers and paid staff are really a freaken joke! if you read the USCRI ALBANY site and see how these people got their jobs, its laughable. Tired interns turned into case managers. One girl has the audacity to wear some tank tops and sit on her desk with tank tops and jeans. OH YES,SHES A CASE MANAGER! she looked all types of wrong! she doesnt look up to par, but people are unemployed so that trash like her can get a paycheck doing nothing.
    Being a former intern I saw how these scumrats operate. They are just there for college. They could care less about any refugees. You can see them running around like rats and scrambling for folders/paper. They tend to work under case managers so whenever a case manager is feeling lazy(which is daily) he can send one of the minions/rats to handle the case. They think they are CEO'S of some fortune 500 company the way they are acting. Settle yourself down.

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  9. Thanks. I think you've helped prove that there is a real problem here.

    As for the employees, although there are problems there, my opinion is not as harsh as yours. Of the Americans, many were dedicated and worked hard and knew their jobs well. Some were in the wrong position and lacked organizational skills, however.

    As for the former refugees, there is a problem there. Due to the legitimate need to have language skills USCRI hires many former refugees. Often these lack some basic job skills (i.e. punctuality and good written communication skills.) Others start out fine employees but become burned out. Then they find themselves not wanting the job, yet it is the best paying job they can hold with limited work experience. Inevitably, bizarre acts of apathy and stupidity follow. (i,e, leaving things repeatedly in areas where the landlord has specifically told them not to leave it and then laughing about it. Making promises to meet people places and then not even trying to keep the commitments. Dumb sh*t that would shame a volunteer boy scout working on a merit badge project.) Yup, that's the way it is.

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  10. Another nepotism issue is USCRI's largest subcontractor -- OH! WAIT! It's Lavinia Limon's husband. So that makes 3 -- Ms. Limon, Peter Limon (her brother, who only sporadically shows up at the office), AND her husband. This is an outrage and I can't imagine how this has been allowed to continue without some sort of scrutiny. Thank you Mr. Huston for poking the snake with a stick!

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  11. Thanks. By the way, although I think it's great that people are reading this, in fact it's one of the most read pages on this blog, I do wish that more of the people who read this would take the time to browse and search the log for other articles on refugee concern. I spent a lot of time writing and sharing important information on such things as collecting and redistributing furniture, teaching refugees to drive and getting refugees into college. It may not be the greatest stuff in the world but I mostly think it's a good place to start a discussion. Again, it's one thing to criticize and expose people who suck and are dangerous. On the other hand, there's a lot of people out there who could help.

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  12. By the way, while I'm at it, let me be negative for just a second more here. If anyone out there knows a woman named Jolene Rosenberg, a woman who ---a la Colonel Kurtz in the film Apocalypse Now--- strives to create an army of jungle people who worship her as a God and obey her every order no matter how insane, please understand not only is her personal theology deeply flawed to the point of wackiness and her use of make up far heavier than what is fashionable, but she is a poopy head who lies to people from time to time. (If she sues, I'll prove that in court, by the way. I'll also collect witnesses who will state that her knowledge of the Karen language is far less than she maintains. ) [I have never had a conversation with this lying person that does not start with her assuming that I have never heard of the Karen people and could not possibly know some of them.] She has personal attributes in common with people who are widely referred to as "fruitcakes."

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  13. This is straight up fact!! the paid staff are MESSY(with an exception of like 2 or 3) no more than a handful though!!!!
    Its funny how people have to cater to these case managers! you cant even talk to one without walking on eggshells!
    theyre not doctors or surgeons or lawyers to even catch ANY attitudes. I worked with people in the professional field and you cant tell their high position because of how humble and modest they are!
    these case managers dont even have offices,only crevices in the corner where they squeeze each "client"
    TO WORK THERE YOU HAVE TO LIE! if someone calls, a case manager can be in their room but just dont feel like talking,so you will get "Talked to" for even interrupting their precious space/time!
    that place is pure bullshitt!!!
    nobody attended their annual "Refugee" day, they are a basic low down run down shack of a building with a dog statue on the top!

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