Entrepreneurs, startup creators, business community stakeholders, and professionals in all fields are invited, and encouraged, to partner with Trailhead and One Refugee in mentoring post-secondary students coming from a refugee background. Approximately 100 Idaho students need what One Refugee Executive Director Raymon Burton calls “professional mentorship,” — job interviewing, honing in on specific career field abilities and more.
Hands-on mentorship like this has helped student Cathalee La, a 19-year-old pursuing dental assisting, enter the state’s workforce. La moved to the U.S. from a Thailand refugee camp when she was 9, and today she is nearing her graduation from the College of Western Idaho with an associate’s degree.
“If I were to think about it, I don’t know how we would make a living over there (in Thailand),” La said. “We (came) to America for a better life, or better future. I’m very thankful I’m here.”
“My experience has been so great,” La also said. “(One Refugee is) always there for me whenever I’ve needed help; I’m a person who’s never shy to ask for help.”
As the summer approaches, now is the time Careers Manager Kirsi Jarvis ramps up her efforts in onboarding potential mentors and community partners. Jarvis — a name recognizable thru Boise State Venture College and Trailhead — and other One Refugee staff encourage anyone interested in volunteering mentorship to apply, because everyone has an experience worth sharing, Jarvis said.
And, that includes up-and-coming entrepreneurs and startup leaders. Students are interested in being an entrepreneur, Burton said, because many saw their family members offer service from their countries of origin.
“These (are) incredible people who (gave) service in incredible situations and tough (circumstances),” Burton said. “So much of what we do is provide opportunities or exposure.”
What does mentorship look like?
Mentorship can include a single one-on-one session with a student, participating in a multi-career event or ongoing correspondence. Monetary donations are also welcome, and essential, for the program’s expansion.
“It’s super open and as much as you want to engage,” Jarvis said. And, mentors do not need to be leaders in an organization or company.
“Come really open-minded,” she added, when asked what advice she would offer mentors. “This could be the first time students engage with a professional, or (someone) in a specific field.”
The goal is for students to come with questions, and the mentor can help engage with success stories, job shadowing, lessons learned from failure, experiences balancing family life or advice around networking, which is a huge need for the students because many are the first in their family to enter a career in the Idaho area.
“Mentors can be this key in opening their door,” Jarvis said. “This is an immense group of up-and-coming professionals in the Boise region, in Idaho, who are going to be leading … I think a lot of people in Idaho are aware of individuals (with a) refugee background; there is a lot of support …”
La is the first in her family to go to college, despite concerns from others in her extended communities around financing. La’s parents encouraged her to continue her education, and La hopes her younger brothers will pursue college as well.
“I think that everyone in Boise that comes from the refugee background should know about (One Refugee),” La said. “Having that confidence and being in the program, their help, that’s what I really appreciate about them. It’s up to you (to be) willing to put yourself out there.”
La meets regularly with Education Manager Jeanie Levinski, who helps students accomplish their education and early career goals. While Levinski helps students by finding and directly linking resources, the goal of One Refugee is to empower the students to pursue opportunities on their own.
“I’m not going to find that internship for them,” Levinski said. “(It’s) up to the student to apply.”
Students are aware of what’s expected of them, what they can expect from One Refugee, and are engaged in a developing Progress Plan, which helps break down a five-year plan and organize potential financial, internship, college and other resources.
“Our students are really motivated, very connected to their community,” Levinski said. “A lot of times, they don’t (understand the) value of the things they’re doing; they’re like, ‘I’m just trying to help my community,’ … and those skills translate. It would be great for them to be connected with community members that will help them further their impact on our community.”
This article was created as a collaboration between Built In Idaho, Boise Startup Week and Trailhead.