Foreign-born residents of the South Hills are benefiting from an expansion of Pennsylvania Women Work’s RISE (Refugee and Immigrant Services for Employment) program.

In partnership with Jefferson Regional Foundation, this free career development service began in the South Hills in September. One-on-one supports, as well as group discussions and classes are available to help refugees and immigrants find family-sustaining employment opportunities.

Pennsylvania Women Work (PWW) is a nonprofit workforce development organization dedicated to helping individuals find meaningful employment.

“Our mission is to help job seekers who are either re-entering the workforce or those who are employed but are looking for a better job,” said PWW executive director Kristin Ioannou.

Ioannou said within the last five or six years, many highly-educated and highly-skilled immigrants and refugees new to the Pittsburgh area have been in need of connections and support to get them into the workforce.

Pennsylvania Women Work’s RISE program helps foreign-born residents expand their job search.

“The program helps them develop a resume, look at how they can transfer their skills and their credentials to our workforce,” Ioannou said. “Introductions are made to employers and trainings, and we give them advice to adjust to the American workplace.”

Many immigrants reside in the South Hills, creating the desire to expand to that area. With the help of a grant from the Jefferson Regional Foundation and partnerships with organizations such as South Hills Interfaith Movement (SHIM), Literacy Pittsburgh and the Jefferson Collaborative, the expansion was made possible.

Elizabeth Ringler-Jayanthan is the program manager for RISE South. Anyone interested in the program can find her contact information at www.pawomenwork.org/rise.

“She’s going to have a presence in the community,” Ioannou said. “A lot of what she’s going to be doing, and we found works really well, is a lot of one-on-one support with refugees and immigrants.”

Kristen Tsapis, RISE program manager, said one-on-one support has worked for her as she has served more than 250 refugees and immigrants during the past three years

“Many of my clients don’t speak English well, can’t read or write, they aren’t formally educated or don’t have technology skills,” she said. “I do a lot of one-on-one coaching.”

Sara Ndayisaba, a mother of four who lives in Brentwood, said her participation in RISE helped her get into UPMC’s Environmental Services training program, which led to a job at UPMC Mercy Hospital.

“I didn’t know where to start,” she said. “I needed something that would support us financially, help us buy a home and fit in with our schedule. I wanted to apply for UPMC’s Environmental Services training program, but when I started the application on my own, I couldn’t finish it. Kristen (Tsapis) sat down with me for almost three hours and walked me through it. It was so helpful.”

Saumu Omar, a native of Kenya who lives in Crafton Heights, trained to become a doula (someone who supports another through a significant health-related experience), but struggled to find employment after the pandemic. She worked some jobs but missed doing what she loved. Omar credited one-on-one coaching from Tsapis, especially in creating a resume, with helping her find a job as a doula at UPMC Magee Women’s Hospital.

“Kristen taught me how to be patient with myself,” Omar said on a video detailing her story. “She was the only one who has been in my picture jobwise. I’m so grateful.”

Tsapis said she has been able to get refugees and immigrants better jobs than they may have had.

“I can certainly connect people, help them fill out applications, coach them with their interviews and move them to where they want to be,” she said. “I introduce them to opportunities. We develop a plan that is tailored to their our needs. I think this is really important work.”

For information about the program, or to sign up for career services, visit www.pawomenwork.org, call 412-742-4362 or email info@pawomenwork.org.

“There’s such a need in our community for this type of service,” Ioannou said. “A lot of our families are willing to work. There are so many employers who are looking for talent in a variety of fields.”

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