Many Somalis in Columbus are facing cultural and language barriers that cause difficulties in obtaining both employment and education.
An estimated 65,000 – 70,000 Somali immigrants have made Columbus, Ohio their new home. Many of the immigrants have relocated to Central Ohio from other U.S. areas. The city has a low cost of living, affordable housing and entry-level job opportunities. Refugees also found that the people of Columbus are tolerant of different races and beliefs. Somalis in Columbus have shown a tremendous amount of growth over the years. The staff and volunteers of Somali Community Link (SCL) educate and encourage people to become U.S. citizens. Our initiative has helped many Somali youth become the first in their family to attend college.
There has also been much economic development among the Somali community with many starting their own businesses, restaurants and shops. We estimate over 750 Somali small businesses ranging from Mom & Pop shops to trucking business and shopping mall venues are creating a positive economic impact in Columbus today. The Somali businesses thrive because of the high demand for goods not found in other stores, and due to the tight knit nature of the community. Many Somalis shop almost exclusively from these businesses, which make these businesses important pillars of the Somali community. Somali Community Link (SCL) supports entrepreneurship through partnerships with community organizations that offer assistance to immigrants striving for financial independence.
Many Somalis in Columbus are facing cultural and language barriers that cause difficulties in obtaining both employment and education. Some Somali youth have low academic achievement due to their and their parents’ lack of education in Somalia. Many youth come to the United States with illiterate parents and a 3rd grade education, if any at all. Many refugee families who lack English language skills are unfamiliar with the education system. They look to the staff and volunteers of SCL to help with school enrollment, after-school tutoring and mentoring for their children.
Above average school drop-out and unemployment rates exist among Somali youth 17, 18, 19 and older who were not formally educated in war-torn Somalia or neighboring refugee camps. In the U.S., many are placed in grades with younger students and feel out of place and eventually drop-out. This can easily lead down the wrong path. Some youth are at risk of involvement with alcohol, drugs or gang activity. The SCL, along with our funding partners, promote and provide programs that help create financial independence, a safe haven and positive role models to counteract these negative influences. Students who attend and complete computer literacy classes in the SCL’s computer lab receive certification for Microsoft Office Skills Training, greatly enhancing their opportunity to obtain and retain employment.
Housing presents a special challenge due to large family size, language barriers and lack of understanding of local housing practices. This results in overcrowding, evictions, complaints about fair housing practices and, at times, allegations of corruption. Senior citizens face special challenges and a higher risk of losing health care. Many refugees qualify for special Social Security Income (SSI) as they work toward U.S. citizenship. Those who do not attain citizenship within 7 years risk losing their SSI benefits including medical coverage. This requirement often results in termination of benefits for the elderly, for whom learning a new language, culture and history is an overwhelming task.
SCL’s services are carefully designed to address these challenges. In recent years, however, a funding shortfall has negatively impacted much-needed intervention programs
Somali Community Link (SCL) Services
SCL has a case manager on site for all clients to ensure information is recorded, filed and kept confidential. Cases vary between our legal, housing and employment services. Case managers coordinate with families in need to provide one point of contact to facilitate successful resolution to problem(s) and/or to link to services sought by the person or family. Connections are made to SCL and other nonprofit agency programs. Examples include ESL courses, referral to medical services (facilitate appointments), social service referrals, youth enrollment in school and after school programs, housing referrals and assistance, legal aid referrals and more.
Many Somalis have trouble finding work due to cultural and language barriers. In response we have offered classes focused on job search techniques, basic computer skills, resume writing and proper interview etiquette to improve the chances of securing a job. We also strive to educate and encourage community members to create more jobs through small business. We believe that entrepreneurship will not only increase the spending power of the Somali community, but also create jobs in Columbus and improve the local economy. We believe that through job training seminars and vocational training in areas such as business and healthcare, Somalis can give back to the community while they work to attain the American dream.
Due to the cultural and language barriers that many immigrants and refugees have upon coming to the United States or a new community, we provide our clients with assistance in searching for housing and filling out the necessary paperwork. Overcrowding has become an epidemic, and as a result there has been a high volume of eviction and misunderstanding. With language barriers and a lack of understanding of the system, there have been complaints about fair housing practices and mistreatment of Somali immigrants, in addition to allegations of abuse and corruption. SCL endeavors to assist with these situations.
With all of the legal procedures required to become a U.S. citizen, we assist many clients with this process, especially those who want to transition from refugee to U.S. citizen. We also work to ensure that the legal rights of our clients are being upheld while residing in the Columbus area.
The SCL strongly targets programs for our youth because they are the future. It is very important to teach immigrants and especially refugee children the tools they need to integrate into American society. We seek to provide youth with positive American values, while emphasizing the importance of retaining their identity and integrating it with their new American identities. Overall we help youth increase their self-determination and confidence, while helping students overcome language, culture and psychological barriers that may hinder their success in academics.
Summer Youth Employment Program
This yearly program helps teens find jobs through the support of the Central Ohio Workforce Investment Corporation (COWIC) and the Ohio Department of Education.
SCL Youth Soccer
Every summer the SCL encourages multicultural friendships and crime prevention with integrated soccer teams, which help students of different backgrounds learn to work together as a team while staying fit and healthy.
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