[Diocese of Olympia] For young people like Abel, a 24-year old refugee from Eritrea, the prospect of starting from scratch in a new society on his own hit him suddenly. “You know, I think all people want to make success. But we struggle, all of us do. That was what I realized right away. That maybe I needed a little help,” Abel said.
Thankfully for these energetic newcomers, the Refugee Resettlement Office (RRO) provides support through Individual Development Accounts (or IDAs). IDAs are like starter kits for low-income working refugees who are saving money to build assets – home purchases, business start-ups, or post-secondary or technical degrees. Provided they complete a financial literacy course and a savings plan agreement, participants will receive a one-to-one grant match of their savings that is committed toward their asset-building goal.
Despite working full-time at SeaTac International Airport – a two hour daily bus commute from his residence in Shoreline, Washington – Abel showed a willingness to challenge himself further and reach for new goals. Last year, he signed up for evening classes at Seattle’s Evergreen Truck Driving School, which provides would-be freight operators with hands on training to pass the Washington state Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) exam. By signing up for the Diocese of Olympia’s IDA program, Abel got the opportunity to receive a grant that covered half the cost of tuition for the six-month long course.
“The class was very helpful. And it prepared me for what I needed to do next,” Abel said, smiling. “Start my own business.
Completing his IDA account gave Abel important benefits. For one, finishing the CDL course gave him the knowledge and skills he needed to succeed in a career in freight operation. Second, the financial discipline that he earned through completing his IDA savings plan gave him convenient entry into the diocesan micro-enterprise loan program. Since 2003, the RRO has managed a diocesan loan fund that, with help from RRO, allows qualified applicants to borrow micro-loans towards start-up businesses. Abel eagerly completed the required business planning coursework, credit counseling sessions, and market research offered by diocesan staff, becoming eligible for a $5,000 loan. Within a month of finishing his CDL course, he had already managed to get his trucking business off the ground, using his loan to invest in an FC2 Freightliner truck.
“I found a for-hire company in Seattle. So I’m ready to work for the Port (of Seattle), and anyone else,” Abel says laughing, standing beside his new truck.
While Abel’s example shows what great feats can be accomplished through an individual’s initiative to succeed, he is quick to give credit to the support he received from others. “All of the classes I took (at the Diocese of Olympia) really helped me – helped me to understand financial problems and the business world, and to spend my money the right way. And of course the grant, which gave me my education. So I’m just very thankful for all of the help I can get.”
For more information on the programs offered by the Refugee Resettlement Office visit http://www.dioceserroseattle.org/ or call (206) 323-3152, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition to the IDA and micro-enterprise programs mentioned above, the RRO also offers programs and information on resettlement, immigration, English as a Second Language classes, employment assistance, citizenship classes, business training, financial literacy training, and STARS training.
— Kevin deVoss is a business development specialist in the Diocese of Olympia Refugee Resettlement Office.