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Giving Hard-to-Place Refugees a Chance

Lai Quach is job hunting and hitting obstacles even greater than the sputtering economy.

Quach is 60 and is struggling with English. After spending six years in a Vietnamese prison--and another 11 years under close scrutiny because he worked with Americans while an administrator for the South Vietnamese government during the war--he came to the United States last year, but has yet to hold a permanent job.

Those obstacles brought Quach to the Orange County Refugee Community Resources Opportunity Project (CROP) in Westminster. One of CROP’s many assistance programs is tailored to Quach and other former “re-education camp” inmates who have recently been allowed to leave Vietnam.

The program offers counseling, job training and English-language classes for a group that is difficult to place in jobs because the immigrants are older, often have limited training outside of the military and have lived through years as political prisoners, said Xuan-Nhi V. Ho, CROP’s executive director.

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Job training for the hard-to-place immigrants has been CROP’s specialty since the organization began operations in 1982 as a joint venture among the Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian communities in Orange County. Today, CROP offers diverse job training, job hunting and counseling services to any person not easily served by other social service programs. As of last year, it served 1,200 residents and is the largest nonprofit social service agency for Asian immigrants in Orange County.

Not only are immigrants settling into a new culture with a new language and different techniques for finding a job, CROP’s clients also often have physical or mental handicaps or have suffered through the trauma of being long-term political prisoners. In addition, some female refugees are struggling against their own culture, which believes that women should be subservient and dependent upon men.

CROP’s programs are mostly short term and geared to weaning clients from government assistance as quickly as possible, Ho said. CROP currently offers classes in gardening and electronic assembly taught by volunteer instructors, he said.

One of the innovative services that CROP has added to help its clients find and keep a job is an after-school child-care center in Santa Ana. The center allows parents to work--or search for work--during the day when the cost of child care would ordinarily make it impossible, said Susan Fahrney, CROP’s assistant executive director.

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Besides dwindling money for social service agencies, the economy is making it more difficult for clients to find jobs, Ho said. But to keep serving its clients, CROP is planning to create its own jobs by helping clients establish a janitorial service company.

The idea is to link several clients together, train them to run the business on their own and help them secure a loan to begin the business, Ho said.

“It doesn’t cost much money. It doesn’t require much skill. And this type of business has not been (severely) affected by the recession,” he said.

VOICES OF CHARITY IN ORANGE COUNTY. One in a series of profiles during the holidays.

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Orange County Refugee Community Resources Opportunity Project Founded: 1982: $1.1 million annual budget. Background: Founded to help Southeast Asian refugees settle in the United States. CROP also offers job training and services to those with mental, physical, language, cultural or other barriers to finding employment. Address: 14550 Magnolia St. Suite 201, Westminster, Calif. 92683. (714) 373-0436


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