Growing Resources for Refugees and Immigrants Allowing New Nebraskans to Excel | Local
As Constantine Syniy and his family settled into their new life in Lincoln, the United States faced one of its greatest tragedies which, in turn, heightened animosity toward immigrants.
Syniy and her family arrived in the United States just six months before the September 11 attacks. Back then, life was radically different for him and the hundreds of thousands of others who had come to pursue the American dream.
But despite growing hostility towards immigrants across the country in the years that followed, Syniy says Lincoln always remained welcoming to his immigrants.
He had gotten his first job less than a week after living in Lincoln, then opened his own business, All Pro Heating and Air Conditioning.
Having owned several businesses in Ukraine, Syniy always intended to open a business or two in the United States. But running a business in Ukraine was very different, so he needed help acclimating.
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The success of his business, he says, would not have been possible without organizations like Catholic Social Services and Lincoln Literacy. Those programs are the reason he stayed in Nebraska, he said.
Success stories like Syniy’s are especially rewarding for people like Sandra Barrera, who works to help immigrants start their own businesses through Nebraska Extension.
“A lot of them come here for a better life, but they know this country isn’t always welcoming and fair to them,” said Barrera, who is a bilingual educator from Nebraska Extension.
Through Nebraska Extension’s Small Business Program, Barrera has helped immigrants start their journey to becoming a business owner, a dream for many as they often feel limited in work opportunities.
Entrepreneurship, she says, helps many immigrants gain another sense of freedom.
That’s exactly what he did for Nyabuoy Chan.
When Chan first came to the United States in 2004 from South Sudan with her then-husband, most of her job was to do housework.
Although being in the United States offered a more stable life, at home Chan felt she had no freedom because she was in an abusive relationship.
But for the next 18 years, Chan worked as a social worker for Catholic Social Services and started her own business, Buay Cleaning Services.
With the help of Echo Collective, a Lincoln organization that helps refugee and immigrant women overcome the obstacles they face to rebuild their lives in the United States, Chan says she is able to show refugee women and immigrants that there are so many opportunities for them in the United States.
Kelly Ross, executive director of Echo Collective, says she started her nonprofit after working as an ESL and citizenship teacher and realizing the disparities in opportunities for refugee and immigrant women.
Many women have benefited from the entrepreneurship courses they offer, she said.
Carmen Castillo, a former Mexican teacher who immigrated to the United States in 2006, had already started her own company – RC Party Accents – before discovering Echo Collective.
But after working with Ross, she said her clientele grew tremendously.
Ross says the refugee and immigrant women she works with often discover their own passions in the process of starting their businesses.
“When I ask women, ‘What is your dream?’ a lot of them don’t have an answer right away,” Ross said. “Many of these women have never had the space and the privilege to be able to think about what they are passionate about and what their dreams are.”
Organizations such as the Nebraska Extension Small Business Program and Echo Collective help make Lincoln a welcoming environment and a place where immigrant business owners can excel, according to those who have benefited from these programs.
For immigrants across the country and state, being able to provide for their families is their highest priority, Barrera says. But a sense of limited opportunity can prevent many from pursuing their own dreams.
“There’s so much they think they can do, and we’re wasting talent in meatpacking plants,” Barrera said.
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