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The RAH program is a collaboration between the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC) African Community Center (ACC) and the University of Denver’s (DU) Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management, which serves as a service-learning program for refugee, asylee, and migrant populations alongside their undergraduate counterparts of the Human Capital course, engaging in cultural exchange and Hospitality training that equips the students to be stronger candidates for the US hospitality workforce, and aiding the refugee population in retaining meaningful employment.

In this Article:

  1. Purpose for the Program
  2. Key to the Success of the Program
  3. Key Actors and Participants
  4. Impact and Outcomes
  5. Implementation Steps
  6. Challenges Faced
  7. Resources and Partnerships
  8. Looking to the Future
  9. Contact and Additional Resources

1. Purpose for the Program

The RAH program supports the foreign-born population in facing challenges that are beyond speaking English as a second language. Participants gain a better understanding of everyday cultural norms and workplace cultural norms to ensure their job retention, optimize career pathways, and boost their upward mobility. At the same time, the undergraduate mentors gain exposure to the realities of leading a diverse workforce through hands-on effective learning experiences for responsible leadership to ensure that they can navigate the workforce with cultural competence, problem-solving skills, and empathy.

2. Key to the Success of the Program

The RAH program is a unique example of a model that shows how a higher education institution can utilize its resources to support the capacity of refugee agencies by providing resettlement services, whilst simultaneously leveraging the partnership for college student learning.

Between the ECDC African Community Center and the Fritz Knoebel Hospitality School, RAH has served close to 400 students in the past 12 years facilitating an in-depth vocational training program with a hyperfocus on US Job readiness, and the hospitality industry. Although employment is a necessary aspect of the resettlement process, 65.1% of refugees are unemployed according to the National Institutes of Health. Refugees are also twice as likely than the general population to be unemployed due in part to factors that act as barriers such as English literacy, transferable skills, transportation concerns, digital literacy, and childcare. 

RAH aims to navigate these barriers by providing resources and sustainable practices that address these concerns, aiding the refugee population in retaining meaningful employment. Incorporating the cross-course collaboration that facilitates learning by Fritz Knoebel and RAH students and changes the lives of the refugees ensures that both student populations can leverage this unique experience to mutually impact their careers through the environment fostered here at Fritz Knoebel School.

3. Key Actors and Participants

RAH students: The participants of the RAH class include refugees, Asylee-seekers, TPS recipients, parolees, and immigrants across various legal statuses. These students are enrolled in the 5-week course. Students are between the ages of 18 to 60.

Fritz Knoebel Staff and Faculty: The Knobel School of Hospitality Staff and faculty are essential in supporting the operational needs of the RAH program. Faculty members Dr. Cheri Young and Dr. David Corsun have been vital in implementing the collaborative piece into the framework of the program and ensuring the program is embedded in the mission and vision of the school. 

Undergraduate students: The students of the Human Capital Management course are responsible for training and mentoring our RAH students to guide their refugee protégés through the application, selection, training, and orientation process. This experience immerses these students in a working relationship that requires unique communication skills, patience, creativity, and cultural awareness from both parties.

ECDC African Community Center staff and other Refugee resettlement actors: These actors came up with the idea of the food training program and extended a partnership with the Fritz Knoebel School. They provide case management support, referrals, and support staff for the day-to-day operations, including curriculum input and overall programmatic decisions. 

Corporate partners: gaining employment for the RAH graduates is a vital part of the success of this program, which is made possible through the many employment opportunities provided by corporate partners such as Sage Hospitality, Hyatt, and Marriott – providing job placements. Close partnership with corporate leaders is key to supporting the program and its objectives.

5. Impact and Outcomes

Over the last 12 years, RAH has served just under 400 students from various parts of the world and helped them build a foundation for their careers in the United States. This is significant as the refugee and immigrant population make up a large percentage of our workforce and communities. Ensuring that they have the tools to achieve self-sufficiency is essential. This in turn positively impacts their co-workers, employers, refugee agencies, and educational institutions.

Here are a few testimonials showing the impact of this program:
The RAH program’s success in helping refugees to land jobs and become self-sufficient is remarkable. It ought to serve as a model for hospitality and business schools in other cities.” – Anne Richard, former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration

Being a mentor in this program taught me the difference between being a manager and being a leader” – Tanisha Cocetti | BSBA 2013

As operators within a very challenging and high-volume airport environment, we have leaned heavily on the training and skills of the employees that were connected to us through the RAH program. These employees have shown a commitment to hospitality and excellence that is exemplary, and their spirit for the industry and their thirst for continued development make each of these individuals a real joy to work with. We look forward to our continued collaboration with this incredible and worthwhile program.” – Dave Willner | Chief Operating Officer, Skyport Hospitality

I’ve learned things I didn’t know before, I especially enjoy [learning] how to behave when we work, how to get a schedule, and a lot of things…I’m even teaching my husband at home, and showing him how to behave at his workplace!” – Pamela Bukuru, RAH Graduate 2023

6. Implementation Steps

Here are a few steps to implement a similar program:

  1. Create a food-based curriculum and U.S. job readiness through work ethic modules.
  2. Establish partnerships with employers where Job fairs, Interviews, Orientation, and Performance Evaluations are coordinated along with program staff to support the refugee students hiring process.
  3. Provide opportunities for paid work experience on campus through collaborations. 
  4. Find funding through private and public institutions that will support operational needs.

7. Challenges 

RAH initially relied on state/federal grant funding which limited the capabilities of serving this population. Having previously only served ORR-eligible individuals, with private funding and an endowment coming in, RAH was also able to serve non-ORR-eligible cases from the community, including asylum seekers, Temporary Protected Status holders, and other immigrants. Relying solely on state and Federal funding meant that the program could only exist if it was awarded grants. During RAH’s second year due to a redeployment of Federal refugee training funds by the Department of State, the program faced an existential crisis. Restructuring the funding mechanisms provided additional years of support and enabled the program manager position to be brought in-house as well as the relationship with the ACC to be restructured. This shift allows the RAH PM to have full access to DU’s resources whilst still leveraging the connections to its refugee agency partner, ACC.

8. Resources and Partnerships

– Funding – State/ private grants to cover program staff salaries and transportation for students.
– A formal agreement between the Higher ED institution and the refugee resettlement agency stating the designated roles and responsibilities.
– Staff with Food safety and customer service background for curriculum instruction. 
– Employer partners to coordinate Job placement for the refugee students.
– Career counselors, Job Developers
– Program material and educational space that facilitates in-class learning and on-the-job learning.

9. Looking to the Future

The Ready for American Hospitality Program aims to foster pathways for RAH students and access to the possibility of pursuing higher education. RAH also aims to expand its curriculum to include partnerships with organizations that can include digital literacy, financial literacy and contextualized English lessons that will provide designated skills that positively impact long-term integration.

10. Contact Information

Name: Jessi Kalambayi
Title: Program Manager
Organization: Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management, University of Denver
Phone Number: +1 303-871-3726

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