Whenever it comes to capital campaigns for new headquarters, refugee resettlement contractors (non-profit businesses) often excel at raising millions of dollars (see examples here and here and here). Conversely, ask resettlement agencies to give their refugee clients basic services and material items and they are quick to say that resources are limited and that they don’t get enough funding from the federal government. A case in point is Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (LSSND). According to recent media reports the agency recently moved into its new $5 million headquarters, which houses many of its community service programs, including refugee resettlement. In the ten years during which I monitored this agency, however, refugee clients often went without basic clothing items, including winter boots and coats — in Fargo of all places (not exactly a warm climate). LSSND often gave refugees damaged, dirty and broken donated housing items and furnishings. Refugees were pushed into any jobs offered, no matter how inappropriate and even dangerous due to the person’s health condition or lack of English skills, due to limited resources for helping refugees become economically self-sufficient. A LSSND middle-age Sudanese refugee client who had helped birth over 10,000 infants in Africa was required to take a job at a storage tank manufacturing company, despite his protestations that he was not strong enough. He was then injured, involving an apparent hernia, while doing lifting. Now, $5 million later, however, LSSND agency employees at the new headquarters are basking under “large windows that fill the interior with natural light”, illuminating “the new structure’s fine art décor.” LSSND’s CEO Jessica Thomasson says these amenities are not just for clients’ “sense of pride”, but for the benefit of employees (maybe that’s the other way around). My idea, however, is that instead of resettlement agencies raising millions for capital improvements, they have campaigns to raise millions for basic services for refugees, and begin funding needs before wants.
Thomasson also prides LSSND’s “great” relationships with area employers, allowing refugees can find quick employment. Yet, that also includes quick termination, and from jobs paying scarcely more than the federal minimum wage. I had the opportunity two years ago to sit down with the owner and a vice president of one of the main companies LSSND works with; a wire harness manufacturer. The two men made it clear to me that they terminate refugees quickly when there is any under-performance. In fact, they were looking to hire a supervisor whose job would mainly be to fire people; essentially someone who did not need to have supervisory skills — working with employees to resolve problems.
An article in the Fargo Forum announces LSSND’s new headquarters grand opening:
FARGO – Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota’s new headquarters building is a beauty. Large windows fill the interior with natural light and there are many spaces, big and small, where folks can gather and talk, either in a large-meeting setting, or one on one.
As you enter the building, there’s not one waiting room but two, and there are large photos on the walls showing people with warm smiles.
The portraits, which include images of past clients as well as volunteers and staff, are a feature of LSS offices across the state and are intended to put visitors at ease, said Kristi Becker Ulrich, director of communications and development at LSS.
That aim is bolstered by the new structure’s fine art decor and overall feel, she said.
“I think there’s a sense of pride when they (clients) come to a building like this,” said Ulrich, who along with other staff moved into the new structure at 3911 20th Ave. S. in March…
The work cost about $5 million, which came from private donations.
A sculpture in the lobby pays tribute to that generosity with a display of the names of donors inscribed on medallions. The size of the medallions varies and is commensurate with the size of a given donation.
“We had one donor who donated more than $500,000 to our capital campaign, so she has a dove,” Ulrich said…
One area where the agency plays a major role is in resettling refugees, a service it started offering at the end of World War II.
“We’re really a conduit for that resettlement work to happen,” said Jessica Thomasson, LSS of North Dakota CEO.
said the agency is only able to do such work because of the many connections it has built with others, including schools and employers.
“We have a great relationship with a lot of employers,” Thomasson said, which allows many new Americans to find work quickly.
“I think employers are both supportive (of resettlement efforts), but also grateful for the opportunity to have access to a very hard-working workforce,” Thomasson said while acknowledging that some in the community don’t always view newcomers favorably… Read more here