Global Neighborhood trains, employs refugees
By Marijke Fakasiieiki
Brent Hendricks started Global Neighborhood 14 years ago and Global Neighborhood Thrift Store 10 years ago out of a desire to provide long-term support to people coming to Spokane as refugees.
Initially, the program matched volunteers with refugee families for educational resources, cultural events, community support and tutoring efforts.
"In the first four years, as we spent time with people in the community, it became apparent that the biggest need was employment," he said.
"We offered classes and English tutoring, but most people came to us saying that they needed help with English homework, job applications and finding jobs," he said.
The pressure refugees feel about providing for their families was overwhelming, Brent said.
"When they felt stress from financial instability, it was hard for them to focus on anything else," Brent said.
So they pivoted the organization's focus to employment.
In 2011, they opened the Global Neighborhood Thrift Store to provide jobs and training for refugees. They started with two men, who learned how to operate a business to help people. They were not sure if they could grow beyond that, but they tried.
The thrift store has been operating for more than 10 years now.
Now they have paid $800,000 in wages to refugees and provided job training to more than 150 people. They plan future training to help refugees find jobs.
"We keep pushing on that and see how big an impact we can have when people have jobs to support themselves," said Brent, who started volunteering right out of college, working with refugee families in the community.
"After studying theology at Whitworth University, I stumbled into my work with refugees," he said. "I didn't leave college knowing what I would do. I didn't even know what a refugee was.
"When I formed relationships with refugees, it transformed my beliefs rather than my beliefs motivating the work," said Brent.
He worked at World Relief for a year as a resettlement case manager, "getting my feet wet, learning about the resettlement process. I realized I wanted to focus on something that would provide ongoing support for stage two in resettlement. That's how I got introduced to the world of refugees," said Brent.
Global Neighborhood has had 151 refugees complete job training and gain English skills. The training includes showing up on time, customer service, receiving feedback in the job setting and knowing all aspects of the job.
Global Neighborhood work also includes how to use a clock-in and clock-out system with computer skills, recycling textiles, certification to operate a forklift and having cashier experience with American money.
Trainees take the skills to other jobs. Global Neighborhood currently has 31 people on payroll, 20 of whom are former refugees from Iraq, Syria, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Marshall Islands, Sudan, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Other employees work in management.
The thrift store accepts any donations in good condition—clothing, household items, home décor, furniture, electronics and books. In reselling donations, they provide jobs. They recycle donations they cannot sell.
Global Neighborhood is conversing with other refugee service providers about the wave of refugees from Afghanistan. He said they are ready for the influx.
They did a clothing drive and told other service providers they would give free shopping vouchers for the thrift store, so refugees can come to "shop" for items in a dignified way.
Brent realizes they will need to offer as many jobs as possible and help people find jobs, so they can support themselves. In the last four years, there were fewer refugees and less demand for job training.
"We hire former refugees, who work in the store for one to six years. We provide training, referrals and case management to help them set up," said Brent.
"I consider myself a spiritual person. We approach this work with a belief that we are all interconnected and rely on one another," he said. "We are spiritual beings, so we are trying to provide a safe, uplifting environment for people, a place to support people where they are. People need a job to earn money to pay rent, but we also understand that a job is just one part of who we are," he said.
Brent sees people holistically, whatever their tradition or beliefs. He wants Global Neighborhood to build people up so they do more than earn a paycheck.
"We seek to empower people so they have dignity. That starts with meaningful work and earning a paycheck. Where people want to go with that is up to them," said Brent.
"Since I stumbled into the social enterprise business, I've become a strong believer in the power of a job to have a transformational impact on communities. We are going to keep doing what we can to keep writing paychecks," said Brent.
"We are figuring out logistics to bring people in after hours to shop with gift certificates. We are able to do that with donations from the community," said Brent
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