5/1/2013 12:24:00 PM Project helps women prepare for workforce
Ruth Erickson Chronotype staff
Volunteers are sought to help Somalian women become proficient in sewing and better enable them to qualify for jobs requiring sewing skills. This follows a 6-week introductory sewing class for Somalians put on cooperatively by Workforce Resource, the Barron School District, Barron County Home and Community Assn. members and retired teachers. Workforce Resource was looking for a way for Somalian job seekers to develop a skill sought by area employers. The Barron School District received a grant that requires it to do outreach to parents of Somalian students. The sewing classes held in March and April were a win-win situation for all involved. Kris Pawlowski, resource development manager who works out of Workforce Resource's main office in Menomonie, said the School District and Workforce Resource had two goals. The school's was to teach basic skills to help Somalian families to save money by being able to mend or make their own clothes. "Our goal on the Workforce side is to expand this class," explained Pawlowski. "Those interested in advancing or improving their skills can continue classes at the International Center on a regular basis." She added, "We hope to continue offering the classes at the International Center and will be looking for volunteers to help us with that. "Our goal is to help those interested to improve on the sewing skills they have learned and to help students develop a greater sense of self-sufficiency by making their own clothing and household items." She added, "We plan to offer Industrial Sewing classes that will teach refugees how to operate industrial machines which could hopefully lead to jobs in the sewing industry. Our business services staff will be reaching out to employers in the area who may have hiring needs for workers with sewing skills."
Connecting link Interpreting for Somalian women who are not yet fluent in English is Nasra Xashi, refugee service coordinator with Workforce Resource. This is her 11th year of residing in Barron and she works out of Barron's International Center. With a good command of English, Xashi helps newly arrived Somalian refugees get acclimated to their new country. For starters, Xashi refers refugees to English as a Second Language classes, which are conveniently taught at the International Center by WITC teachers. Pawlowski said WITC has offered more than ESL classes. "They have also provided Health Care Career exploration classes, and Certified Nursing Assistant classes and are currently offering a child care provider certification class, which several Somali are enrolled in." Xashi also gives assistance to secondary refugees, who are those who initially arrived in metropolitan areas and are now moving on to other cities, like Barron, with hopes of finding work. Xashi helps both primary and secondary Somalian refugees navigate through Workforce Resource's Refugee Cash Assistance and Road to Work programs. She offers World of Work workshops every Friday teaching refugees how to fill out resumes and how to prepare for interviews. She also informs them of the need for immunizations and other public health concerns. "One of the reasons we wanted the sewing class back again was with the Road to Work program, one of its goals is to work with secondary wage earners in refugee families," Pawlowski said. "Our aim is to teach them some skills that would be transferable to employment." The resource development manager explained the reason for the new focus on the sewing industry. "When we first started working with refugees in the late 1990s, what was driving them were jobs at The Turkey Store," Pawlowski said. Having flooded that market, the turkey production plant can't keep up with demand for employment and does not have the openings it once did, she said. Pawlowski said some Somalians have left Barron because of lack of employment and/or affordable housing. According to Workforce Resource records, there were 525 Somalians living in the City of Barron a few years ago, which dropped to 374 last spring.
Project partners Of the 12-15 people in the sewing class, Xashi said some are refugees and some are new citizens who don't have jobs. "We think it will help them," Xashi said. "If they can do a job, they can get work or can make and sell items to generate income for their families." Pawlowski credits the School District for offering the class. "This sewing class could not have happened without the efforts of [teacher] Kim Frandsen and of course the wonderful volunteers." "It an easy thing for the school district to do," said Frandsen, who teaches English As a Second Language at the high school. Frandsen said a similar sewing class was offered 2 years ago. The district decided to offer it again because it receives federal funds in the form of a refugee grant and has to do some parent outreach. Pawlowski said a local business also had a part in the success of the sewing class. "The Rice Lake Wal-Mart provided us with a $50 gift card, which helped us to purchase a sewing notion kit for each of the participants. The kits cost $12 each. The students paid $5 for the kits to help cover the cost." Volunteers who gave one-on-one guidance to the class participants included Barron County Home and Community Education Assn. members Kaye Leaman, Susan Ziemek and Sheri Herrman along with retired home economics teachers Connie Townswick, Sue Pliska and Janice Pederstuen. Herrman also works in the School District. All involved pieced their talents, resources and willingness to learn together-and the result was a skillfully designed class.
Bits and pieces "One thing is they're very enthusiastic about what they do," said Pliska, who is in her sixth year of retirement after teaching for 36 years. "It's a lot of fun" said Herrman. "They're very appreciative and funny." "I love it!" exclaimed Ziemek, who is Frandsen's aunt and a HCE member. "I think it's very fun. I really enjoy it." Through Xashi's help with interpretation, Somalian Hawa Mohamed said she took the class "because I need help with my children to make their own clothes. I need to make a business." Somalian Aniso Ali said, "I am so glad for help to make my own clothes and my children's. I want to work." Somalian Foos Diriye said, "I want to help my children, myself and also to support my family." Those interesting in volunteering to assist with sewing classes at the International Center in Barron can contact Pawlowski at "firstname.lastname@example.org" or Xashi at "email@example.com."