By Rhett Muller
Being a mother to 70 people all at once, as Ashley Carr describes her job, is not an easy task. But above all, what she gets out of her job is far greater than anything else she could imagine.
As a refugee resettlement case manager for Catholic Social Services in Lincoln, Nebraska, Carr spends her days meeting refugees new to Nebraska, helping them find homes, providing them with food and even taking them to doctors’ appointments.
Refugee resettlement case managers are there for refugees when there is no one else. They offer immediate assistance upon arrival. According to Carr, some already have families in Lincoln, but they are often busy with trying to adjust themselves.
“I get lots of random calls during they day,” Carr said. “Every day is different.”
Carr’s job is her life and has been since she became a sponsor for a Sudanese family during her freshmen year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2009. When she started working with them, she began to realize that there are people in Lincoln coming from all different places, with all different stories.
After working part-time teaching English at Lincoln Literacy, Carr began working at Catholic Social Services helping to settle newly arrived refugees.
Before case managers meet the new arrivals, they are given an alert on their calendars that a family is arriving. They then go to the airport to pick up people that they have never met.
“There are so many questions that you have to ask them up front, and every family is different.” Carr said.
Many refugees have the feeling that if they survive and get to Lincoln they are OK. They usually don’t realize all of the things that still need to be taken care of.
Case managers need to ask questions to assess the situation and what needs to be taken care of first. These can range from medical concerns to things such as not having underwear or socks. For the next three months Carr and the other case manager are responsible for making sure all such needs are fulfilled.
Catholic Social Services helps to find housing for the refugees and works with landlords who are willing to rent to someone who has no Social Security card, insurance or driver’s license and can put only their name and birthdate on their application.
The first three month’s rent is usually paid up front by Catholic Social Services, using the $925 that the government gives refugee families along with extra money from flex funds that they have.
After getting the refugees settled case managers become providers for those three months and sometimes even beyond that.
One of the first families Carr helped while working for Catholic Social Services was a Kurdish family from Iraq. Because they did not speak any English, Carr had to make and take them to appointments, take them to pay their bills and to the store to help them shop for groceries.
Sometimes a translator is present. However most of her time spent with refugees is filled with hand signals and pointing to communicate with each other. Slowly they begin to understand each other’s words and a sense of understanding is developed.
Carr recalls one specific time in the car when she was driving Haji Blasiny, the head of the household, to one of his appointments. There was a song that came on in the car and all of the sudden Haji yelled “Disco!” and started pumping his arms to the beat of the song. He had been very quiet and serious up until this point. Now Carr refers to him as “Haji Disco” whenever she sees him.
“Without Ashley we would have been lost.” Haji says today.
Haji and his wife, Hinar Kochi, arrived in Lincoln a little more than a year ago with their family. Before coming to the United States as refugees, they lived in Iraq which they fled because of the war. They then settled in Turkey. For the next few years they lived there until ISIS became a problem.
Haji and his wife decided to go to the United Nations and try to get to America.
“Six months later we got the phone call that the United States wanted us,” Haji said.
Haji and his family had been in Lincoln for about a month before they were set up with Carr in November 2014. Since then, Carr has become a part of their family.
Carr even spent Christmas with them while her family was away and she was in Lincoln for the holiday. Although they did not celebrate the holiday, Haji and his family welcomed her with open arms as they learned Christmas traditions and taught Carr about their culture.
They treated her like royalty after she brought them a brand new microwave. She showed them how to work it, and they thanked her many times over. But Carr had a special present for “Haji Disco.” A little Christmas ornament of a figurine in a disco pose.
This ornament became a symbol for their understanding of each other and hangs above the calendar in the family’s home year round. Even though Carr is the one who helps them, Haji and his family have helped Carr gain a better understanding of refugees so she can help hundreds more just like them.