DU Program Sprouts New Opportunities for Refugees
International refugee experts visit Fritz Knoebel to learn more about groundbreaking program
For many refugees and immigrants that relocate to America, the nonstop pace of the U.S. business environment can be overwhelming. Before they even have a chance to learn the language or grasp basic cultural norms, they are often thrown into the workforce.
“Most refugees and immigrants are thrust into high-speed situations, high-speed integration and high-speed relocation,” he said. “Before they know it, most people are working in the U.S. before they even know how to take the bus.”
For the last decade, Cherwinski said Fritz Knoebel’s Ready for American Hospitality (RAH) program has provided the space for holistic support to refugees looking for career development and cultural immersion. Refugees in the program are trained in food safety and U.S. work culture, collaborating with Fritz students to put together a culminating event where they host a formal meal that’s open to the public.
While the food skills are crucial, Cherwinski is most fond of the cultural impacts the RAH program has.
“My little secret is that RAH is just an extended cultural orientation time,” he said. “It’s extra time for someone to adjust, to ask questions, to see how Americans live their daily lives before they’re thrust into that high-speed situation.”
On March 30, Cherwinski and Fritz Knoebel leadership and students let an audience of international diplomats and refugee advocates in on the secret.
Representatives from the United Nations, the U.S. State Department and the Refugee Council USA came to the University of Denver as part of a series of meetings on refugee resettlement. The event, the Working Group on Resettlement, is the most important resettlement forum for the United Nations, governments, NGOs and refugees to discuss and advance refugee resettlement issues. On recommendation from the state of Colorado, the nearly 30 representatives from 15 countries visited the RAH program to learn more about the collaboration and its impacts. Representatives heard from RAH graduates, spoke with Fritz Knoebel students and rolled up their sleeves in the kitchen for a group activity.
State Department representative Larry Bartlett said the RAH program provides a crucial resource to refugees resettling in the U.S.
“[Programs like this] are critical,” he said. “Refugees, when they’re brought to the U.S., are given an opportunity to make a new life, but they also have responsibility to really succeed.”
Bartlett is the State Department’s director of refugee admissions for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration out of Washington, D.C. During his visit, he lauded the resiliency of refugees and pointed to RAH graduate Mohamad Al Nouri as a perfect of example of that determination to succeed.
Al Nouri felt a great deal of pressure when he landed in the U.S. in 2017. The Syrian refugee came to America from Egypt and immediately sought work to help support his family.
“The first [few] months was tough because you moved from a country to another country again and here was way different, especially because of the language,” he said. Al Nouri and his family had previously fled Syria when the war began in 2012.
Despite not speaking any English upon his arrival, Al Nouri got a job as a dishwasher in downtown Denver within his first two weeks in the country. Around the same time, Al Nouri met Cherwinski through his resettlement services.
Quickly, Cherwinski pitched Al Nouri on the RAH program as an opportunity to further his career and cultural immersion. Al Nouri hit the ground running and within months he was promoted to a prep cook, before being further elevated to a sous chef. From there, Al Nouri struck out on his own and, along with his family, launched a restaurant, Jasmine Syrian Food at the Mango House in Aurora, Colorado. Al Nouri credits the RAH program with preparing him for that venture and his career growth.
“The program gave me an opportunity to get me a better position at my job,” he said. “It also gave me more technique and more opportunity to learn about food in general.”
‘Think outside the box’
Bartlett said he would remember success stories like Al Nouri after his visit to the RAH program.
“When you see somebody like Mohamad and his family making it in Denver, not just for themselves, but for the city and the people around them, for their community, it’s one of the best parts of this program,” he said. “You see how rich this program is and how much it contributes to our country.”
Cherwinski was thankful for the global recognition of the program and hoped that the representatives would use this as a model to drive future benefits for refugees around the world. Overall, he hopes the RAH program inspires these resettlement experts to think outside of the box.
“If that message of think outside the box, of saying ‘maybe there’s more, are there other institutions in place that can be involved, are we not tapping into something?’ If we have encouraged anyone to ask those questions, I would be happy,” he said.