Young Refugees Immersed in Workplace Training Program

Article excerpt

Nineteen-year-old Toh Toh knows what she'll buy with her next paycheck.

"Clothes," she said, giggling and peeking through the sleek, short haircut she got when she started as an assistant at a Downtown salon a few weeks ago. It's not only her first summer job, but her first time in the American workplace.

Toh Toh's parents fled ethnic persecution in Myanmar, the Southeast Asia country formerly known as Burma, and she was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. She relocated to Pittsburgh, along with her parents and younger brother, in July 2008. She lives in Whitehall.

Toh Toh and 23 other young refugees are getting on-the-job experience and a paycheck this summer through a program operated by the Jewish Family & Children's Service of Pittsburgh that prepares the young adults -- many of whom grew up in refugee camps -- for the workplace.

Jewish Family & Children's Service is one of 17 agencies participating in Allegheny County's Summer Youth Employment Program. The program aims to teach 1,000 low-income young adults, ages 14 to 24, job skills and put them in the workplace.

The Allegheny Department of Human Services pays the interns from a $5.2 million stimulus grant through Sept. 30. This is the second year the county has received stimulus money for the summer employment program.

"I think the main goals were job creation and stimulating the economy," said Jonathan Walkush, manager of planning and operations at the Allegheny County Department of Human Services and Bureau of Employment Training. "I can't think of another group that can stimulate the economy more than young people. They spend their money."

Most of the participants and their families in the Jewish Family & Children's Service program received refugee resettlement services from that agency or others around Pittsburgh. Jewish Family & Children's Service invited 24 young adults, ages 16 to 20, to participate in the summer program this year. …