Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Judging the refugee center


Note: this was originally written over seven years ago. I took it down for a while but decided to put it back up. The refugee center in Albany is much better run now and it appears that the director, Jill Peckinpaugh, was chosen because she has management skills. By contrast when this was written the director was chosen because she was a skilled photographer with good public relations skills. (???)

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Within this blog I have made some pretty harsh condemnations of USCRI-Albany, the local refugee center, and the way it operates. Quite frankly, I don't really enjoy writing these things, then again in the last two weeks I've run into a couple people who know the center. They agree that the place is extremely disorganized and just rolled their eyes when it was mentioned. And interestingly enough, these were both people who had no idea how I felt about the center or that I had any real connection with it or even had a connection with refugees. (I spend a lot of time at events and activities that involve other cultures and so do many people who are interested in refugee concerns.)

Surely some who read this disagree or want to check for themselves.

Here's some thoughts on how to do that.

1) Check the newspaper or read blogs. Do google searches on the name of the organization. See what people are saying about it.

2) Check the rate of turn over among employees and volunteers. One way to do this is by noting the rate at which they seek volunteers. This is done through several sources, one is idealist.org , a website and e-mail service that advertises volunteer and paid positions for organizations that strive to make the world a better place. Just last week someone, a third person, noted that based on its postings in idealist.org the organization seemed to be searching constantly for volunteers of all kinds and often for the same positions. They saw this as a sign of a problem and, quite frankly, it is. Volunteers tend to burn out quickly due to the confusion within the organization. Others find they can do the same things they enjoyed doing at the center but with less hassles without the center getting in the way. (I started out teaching English there. If I understand correctly, they have gone through three different volunteer directors of their English program in the last year.)

3) Check with the agencies it works with and their volunteers. Ask for instance, their landlord, the people who rent them property and house the refugees, AAA Used Furniture, the local health clinics, the churches they work with, and the local literacy volunteer program. Ask them what they think of USCRI-Albany. Who knows? They might say something good.

4) Check with the government agencies that do business with it. These are easy enough to find. Just google "USCRI-Albany." What should soon stick out is that many of these agencies have both the address of USCRI-Albany and the name of the director wrong on their referral lists. I have toyed with the idea of making such a list of misdirected referals but it's just not something I wish to do.

5) Ask former refugees and immigrants from the ethnic groups whose members are served by the local refugee center. When I do this, even casually, it's not uncommon for people to start screaming.

6) Check with the Better Business Bureau. If you'd like their report is here. You'll note that the CEO of the national organization makes approximately $200,000 a year, which was equal to two thirds of their Albany office budget in 2006. Not very encouraging, I'm afraid. Why, I wonder, does the CEO make so much when the director of the local office has no management credentials and whose primary background with refugees prior to assuming office was to take pictures of them?

Again, don't listen to me. Please don't listen to former interns. Just do your own homework. Then make your own conclusions.

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