Passover is my holiday of remembering — the one that brings me back to Seder tables with the immigrants and first generations of my own family. They spoke Yiddish and English — equal parts separate from, and bound up with, America. Some at the table owned small neighborhood businesses that did just well enough to get by. Others grew enterprises that achieved almost unimaginable prosperity. They took care of their children and parents, looked out for the extended network of friends they counted as family, and gave back to the community they called home.
They weren’t so different from newcomers today. Walk through the halls at Jewish Family & Career Services (JFCS) and you’ll hear languages from around the world. Louisville’s refugees and immigrants are writing the opening chapters of their own American stories, as so many Jewish families did not so long ago. They come to JFCS because they are strivers — fiercely committed to carving out their own paths, caring for their families, unlocking their full potential to contribute.
Every day, we see highly skilled professionals who were forced to flee their countries of origin without the university degrees or certificates of specialization to prove their skills. We can help some of them recover these documents. More often than we like, politics, war, discrimination and the bureaucracy of where they came from stymie our efforts.
So, we become coaches and companions, helping these newcomers along the humbling road of imagining different lives and careers for themselves, identifying step-by-step plans to progressively improve their employment prospects. This “career laddering” can include industry-specific ESL classes, additional education, re-certification, alternative roles in their past fields or altogether new directions.
We see other new Americans wanting to open a small business, following a dream or just to make ends meet. We work with them to navigate a maze of requirements (banking, taxes, licensing, regulation, staffing, customer service and marketing). We qualify some for micro-loans, giving them access to capital and credit-building that help them realize their hopes for the future.
I learned some of this while studying up on JFCS when I first considered coming home to Louisville but was still surprised by the agency’s signature event. The MOSAIC Awards are a salute to immigrants, refugees and first generation Americans making significant contributions in their professions and our community. It didn’t connect with the place I thought I knew, and I couldn’t be more pleased about how wrong I was.
For 14 consecutive years, JFCS and the greater community have come together to celebrate new Americans and first-gens who are on the top rungs of their own career ladders. They serve as models of what is possible and reminders of our own, not-too-distant pasts.
Nearly everyone in Jewish Louisville has some family story of coming to America. Through the work JFCS does every day, and the MOSAIC Award-winners we will celebrate next month, we all have a precious opportunity to remember the past and be part of the future.
(Deb Frockt is the new chief executive officer of Jewish Family & Career Services.)
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