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LSS Refugee & Immigration Center helps refugees rebuild lives in United States

Posted: Tuesday, Apr 9th, 2013

Kathy Retzlaff, right, program coordinator for Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota Refugee & Immigration Center, stands with her assistant and translator, Mu Law Eh, in the office located in the Huron Mall. PHOTO BY CRYSTAL PUGSLEY/PLAINSMAN

Helping Karen refugees resettle in Huron is both challenging and rewarding, said Kathy Retzlaff, program coordinator for Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota Refugee & Immigration Center in Huron.

Many of those coming into Huron are secondary refugees, or individuals who arrived in the United States first in a different state and then resettled in Huron, she said.

Huron has welcomed several hundred refugees who directly arrived from camps in Thailand, and nearly 2,000 more who were secondary refugees. Some stay a short time before moving to another location closer to family, and others choose to remain, she said.

Retzlaff started work with the refugee center in May 2010.

“They’re so grateful, I don’t even know how to say it,” Retzlaff said. “They are so grateful for anything and everything.

“They’re coming over here and reuniting with family,” she said. “They’re so grateful to be here in the United States — safe, and to have the opportunities that are out there for them to provide for their families.”

The core services provided by the center include housing, health care, employment, interpreter services and immigration services, if needed.

“There is a learning curve, that is something we help with,” Retzlaff said. “Once a month we have community orientation classes. They’re aimed toward our newer refugees that are resettling with us, but they are also open to anyone else who would like to attend.”

These monthly sessions last for one week and cover as much information as possible, from banking to proper food storage.

“Putting money in the bank is definitely a new experience,” Retzlaff said. “We have CDs we play to teach how to operate a thermostat, if you want heat or air conditioning.”

Some information is also printed in the Karen language to be handed out.

“We, of course, speak English, and then we have an interpreter,” Retzlaff said. Her assistant at the Center, Mu Law Eh, is also their interpreter.

Part of the training course focuses on employment, and the Center will help train and job shadow new employees.

“We’ve had more employers in the community that have opened their doors and welcomed our refugees,” Retzlaff said. “We assist them in getting started and do a little job shadowing for a few days so they know what they’re doing. We’re there as a resource, too.”

As new families come in, Retzlaff and her team are busy laying the groundwork so they are able to arrive in town and have a place ready for them.

“As new families come in, we get them into a home, put furnishings and supplies they need into the home, and it’s there when they get here.”

Even with a language barrier, their gratefulness for help in getting established and on their way to creating a new life is evident.

“They’re coming from such a different world,” Retzlaff said. “It’s almost overwhelming.”

Each family receives a welcome box that is filled with basic necessities needed to set up a home.

Anyone who has new or gently-used kitchen or household items or furniture they would like to donate can call Retzlaff at 554-0456. Their office is located at the Huron Mall, enter through the east door on the north end of the mall.

“Every day is a new day and you address the needs and the challenges as they come,” Retzlaff said. “I love what I do every day. You don’t know what’s coming in the door, but I appreciate every day that I’m here — the challenges and successes, they’re all definitely worth it.”

For the complete article see the 04-07-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 04-07-2013 paper.

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