After arriving in New Orleans this past February from Trinidad, Jose Ashby has acclimated well, working hard while becoming familiar with the area and its history. And of course, he’s enjoying the food — with one exception.
“The food here is amazing, but I have to say that I don’t really like crawfish — just not my favorite,” said Ashby, 35, a phlebotomy technician at Ochsner Baptist Hospital. “I feel a little like a tourist since I am still learning the area but everything is going well.
“I enjoy my job at the hospital, and the people there and around the city have been very nice to me.”
Ashby was able to find a home and a job with help from Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Refugee Services program, which assists newly arrived immigrants with resettlement and self-sufficiency services.
The department provides support by helping with housing, employment, cultural orientation, interpretation services, access to English language training, mentoring community outreach. And all the services are free. Janet Lopez is the program’s director.
“We are the only refugee resettlement agency in the Greater New Orleans area,” Lopez said. “We have 12 people in our department helping clients with a number of needs. And from the moment they arrive at the airport, we are there to assist them.”
Refugees like Ashby are resettled here and are approved for entry by the United States government. All those entering go through extensive background checks before arriving.
Lopez said refugees have come to the New Orleans area from such countries as Haiti, Cuba, Syria, Honduras, Afghanistan, Burma and Venezuela, and the Refugee Services department provides assistance right away.
“We make a home visit within 24 hours of someone’s arrival to discuss what their immediate needs are,” Lopez explained. “For example, many people may already have family and friends here, so housing may not be an issue. But for those who don’t have a place, we work with landlords in advance of their arrival to ensure we have housing for them.
“We also work in advance with businesses for those who are ready for employment who arrive here with educational and professional experience. The department also helps enroll children in school, arrange for citizenship classes as well as driving lessons for adults or help in obtaining a driver’s license, and help with English language skills.”
Lopez added that when the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, the department had served 324 clients from such countries as Cuba, Haiti and Ukraine, as well as those with special immigration status.
“I see this program as a connector for clients,” Lopez said. “We are here to lend support while they begin to build their lives. And the clients are here to thrive, not just survive. They are ready to grow and become better for themselves.”
Although he misses his family and friends in Trinidad and in his native home of Venezuela, Ashby said he’s happy.
“I wanted to be resettled some place where the weather was warm and there were not a lot of people,” Ashby said. “This is what I wanted, and I am happy to be here. Everything is beautiful.”
For more information about the program, call (504) 457-3462 go visit www.ccano.org/immigration-services