Visiting with the Mayor, young refugees learn about local government

Transitioning to life after high school: The Refugee Youth Program

A group of high school juniors and seniors recently took a field trip to City Hall where they visited the PA Supreme Court, City Council chambers, and our Mayor, Bill Peduto. A fine civic lesson for sure, but for these particular kids it was a definite eye-opener.

These students participate in the Refugee Youth Employment Program run by the Career Development Center at JF&CS. They are juniors and seniors from Baldwin and Brashear High Schools. They are refugees and immigrants from several different countries; some just arrived last year, and some came seven or eight years ago. And that day at City Hall, they were awestruck by what they saw and heard.

Like most of her young peers, Aya Attal, a Syrian refugee who just came to Pittsburgh last summer, had little to no idea of how local government works or who works there. She had aspirations of being a doctor, but after this trip has decided to pursue a career in politics or public service.

That was the main point of the trip. While learning about local government, these young adults get exposed to a selection of careers that widens their view of what they can do after high school. “It was especially meaningful to many of them who come from countries where the government is not a friendly institution,” said Bishnu Timsina, who runs this group.

In contrast, our Mayor Bill Peduto welcomed them and spent an hour or so chatting and answering their questions. He was asked where he went to college, and he told them about sending trucks of aid to Nepal after the earthquake in 2015. They talked together about issues concerning refugees that are so prevalent in today’s national conversation.

The Refugee Youth Employment Program was established to help young refugees prepare for college and careers. Unlike in many other families, refugee parents might not have the frame of reference to take their kids to visit colleges and prepare for employment. “So we take them,” says Erin Barr, another CDC staff member. “We’ve been to Pitt, CMU, Duquesne and Carlow, and to Google and the Omni Hotel downtown. Some of our kids went to Washington, D.C.”

Bishnu and Erin have both seen tremendous growth in these students, especially in the personal motivation to find a job and/or go to college. In fact, many of them already have part time jobs.

The heart of JF&CS’s work has been this kind of providing some stepping stones to a better life, and thus a better community for all. Seniors who can remain safe in their homes, people finding meaningful work, potential parents and children finding each other, food on the table so that hunger isn’t a barrier to success and self-sufficiency. A helping hand to bridge the gap. And showing some teenagers from other lands that the road ahead depends upon their energy and effort, and that with planning and determination they can make their dreams reality.

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