Mission and History
The mission of Refugee and Immigrant Self- Empowerment (RISE) is to advocate and promote self-sufficiency through employment, education, social support and economic independence for members of the refugee and immigrant communities in Onondaga County, NY.
All refugees and immigrants are empowered to become economically independent and productive members of society who enrich their new community while maintaining their cultural identity.
With the outbreak of civil war in 1991, extreme drought and armed conflict drove millions of Somali Bantu peoples from their homes. Those fortunate enough to reach refugee camps in Kenya and neighboring countries were met with substandard living conditions, malnutrition, and epidemics. Despite such hardship, the shared experiences of the Somali Bantu peoples forged an unwavering sense of community.
It was this very sense of community which inspired the founding of the Somali-Bantu Community Association (SBCA) in 2004. SBCA was initially an informal ethnic community-based organization (ECBO) seeking to establish a collective voice for their community while empowering fellow refugees and their children through education. But what began as humble living room meetings for afterschool tutoring quickly transformed into a formal 501(c)(3) organization with an expanding clientele that outgrew both the Dr. King Elementary School and the shared space at the Boys & Girls Club of the Central Village. By 2012, to meet nearly 200 clients’ emerging needs, SBCA relocated to its current location at 302 Burt Street.
By 2014, significant funding opportunities from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and Central New York Community Foundation (CNYCF) allowed SBCA to hire part-time staff and significantly expand service delivery, as did staff development programs such as CNYCF’s “The Leadership Classroom” and Gifford’s “Nourishing Tomorrow’s Leaders.” As the SBCA’s clientele grew diverse, so too did its Board. In Fall 2015, SCBA adopted a new name, “Refugee and Immigrant Self-Empowerment” (RISE) to better reflect its dedication to serving oppressed, persecuted, and disenfranchised peoples from all over the world.
By expanding the breadth of our services to refugees and immigrants beyond the Somali-Bantu community, RISE experienced a rebirth. In the past two years alone, RISE has been awarded additional ORR Grants for a Refugee Agriculture Partnership Project and an Individual Development Account Program. Grants from the CNY Community Foundation, the Allyn Family Foundation, the John Ben Snow Foundation, and the Dorothy and Marshall M. Reisman Foundation have allowed RISE to develop increasingly popular education and women’s empowerment programs. Completion of the Gifford Foundation’s POWER2 year-long capacity building program has also laid the groundwork for continued growth.
Now with a staff of 13 -nearly 75% of which are former refugees themselves- RISE represents the inclusivity of its mission: “To advocate and promote self-sufficiency through employment, education, social support, and economic independence for members of the refugee and immigrant communities in Onondaga County”, while its vision, “All refugees and immigrants are empowered to become economically independent and productive members of society who enrich their new community while maintaining their cultural identity” reflects its commitment to respecting the cultures of origin of its clients. RISE is an organization run by refugees, for all refugees.
Programming & Community Benefits
Annually, RISE provides services for nearly 400 refugee and immigrant families from over 25 nations world-wide. In contrast to traditional refugee resettlement agencies’ services that are limited to the individual’s initial 90 days, RISE’s staff continues to provide support for refugees and immigrants beyond this initial period. This ensures that all New Americans -irrespective of origin- are able to lead productive lives, engage in their community, and continue to pursue successful integration.
Crucial to this mission are RISE’s most important and popular services, bridging case management and interpretation programs. Here a client can find housing assistance and referrals; family crisis intervention and mediation services; community resource referrals; and document translation services such as medical and legal interpretation. The organization’s employment services include pre-screenings, work orientation, job-coaching, vocational English language instruction, and other practices facilitating workforce entry, professional development, and job retention. Refugees and immigrants are motivated workers in pursuit of economic self-sufficiency for themselves and their families. Statistically as well, those employed require less public assistance, contribute to the local economy, pay taxes, and often provide employers both tax credits and training incentives. Our results speak for themselves: from April 1 to September 30, 2017, of the 396 clients who received employment services, 42 gained full employment and 10 gained part-time employment.
Complementing our case management work is our Citizenship Program, which has produced over one hundred graduate-citizens since its inception in 2009. Weekly testing and mock interviews for the N-400 Naturalization Application ensure mastery before clients undergo the actual citizenship test, resulting both in a 100% success rate as well as protection against opportunity costs for USCIS officers’ use of community resources in testing unprepared applicants. Our daytime Adult Literacy Programs provide clients with English as Second Language (ESL) classes, computer literacy training, and job as well as life skills training that ranges from resume preparation to stitching and sewing.
Increasingly, our attention has also turned to two of the most disenfranchised demographics within Onondaga County: Women and Youth. Specifically, Women and Female Youth Empowerment programs reduce isolation, increase confidence, and spur intercultural and interethnic exchange through the arts, cultural events, field trips, and workshops. Additionally, under the theme “Cultivating our Futures,” RISE has offered summer and after-school experiential programming that targets the unique learning needs of refugee youth before they struggle academically and lose self-confidence. Most recently, in a summer program of 35 students, we saw nearly 75% of the participants demonstrate gains in their pre- and post- class writing assessment scores. Not only does RISE, its mission, and, its programming fulfill unmet needs within our community. For RISE, diversity adds strength and lies at the very heart of our mission.