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Welcome Center: Health clinic expands services to help refugees, immigrants

Argus Observer
Saturday September 15, 2018


Abdikadir Abdi, originally from Somalia, works with a client with papers at the Welcome Center on Southwest Fourth Avenue in Ontario, provided by Four Rivers Health Care. Larry Meyer | The Argus Observer

ONTARIO — Four Rivers Health Care in Ontario began in 1999 as a clinic to serve the medical needs of low-income people not covered by insurance or other programs, but has now added services to help some of the area’s newest residents — immigrants and refugees.

The Welcome Center, located in the health clinic, has been open since May, center director Renee Cummings said. It helps families with myriad services, such as finding jobs, filling out applications, providing translators and following up with employers, Cummings said. It also serves to get the immigrants and refugees engaged in the community.

About 50 families, Iraqis and Somalis, have come to the area from larger cities where they first arrived in the U.S. Some of those cities include San Diego, Portland and Boise, Cummings said. The refugees are often drawn to the rural communities where housing and the overall cost of living are lower, she said. Some also prefer less crowded areas.

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The health clinic obtained a grant to open the Welcome Center as an outreach to refugees coming into the area. It works with the Immigrant and Refugee Organization, which is based in Portland, and which has provided two Arabic speakers and one Somali speaker to help with translation services. Agency officials will be coming to Ontario in the next few months to see what the needs are, and to determine what direction the Welcome Center needs to go.

Cummings, who was formerly executive director of Harvest House Mission and more recently worked at Community in Action, said she was approached by officials of the health clinic to be the lead at the Welcome Center. She said she accepted with some trepidation.

“I know only English,” she said, adding that she had never worked with refugees.

“It was challenging,” she said of the language barriers.

“It is definitely needed for this area,” Cummings said of the center. Some simple things can be complicated when people don’t know the language or the culture and want to get employment out in the community.

As many as six to 10 families per day visit the center, which is open Monday through Friday.

Local businesses who are employing some of the refugees include WalMart, Woodgrain Millwork, Dickinson Frozen Foods, Fry Foods and CTI Foods near Wilder, Cummings said.

Many of the refugees have education degrees and skills that are not recognized in the United States, such as teachers and engineers. However, there are efforts in the U.S. and Canada to get that education of the refugees recognized so they can use their expertise.

One of the people working at the Welcome Center is Abdikadir Abdi, himself a refugee from Somalia, who lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for seven years, from age 7, before he was able to come to the U.S. in 2007, at age 14.

Now living in Boise with his family – a wife and five children – Abdi, 28, said he plans to move to Ontario. He is preparing to start classes at Treasure Valley Community College to study nursing.

In the meantime, Abdi has started the Somalia Community Association in Ontario, through which he helps Somalis coming into the area to settle in and to feel more at home.



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