Northland News

Helping refugees

CRIS consolidates services into one location

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CHRIS PARKER/THISWEEKNEWS
Anne Stuckey teaches a class Oct. 3 to help prepare immigrants for entering the workforce at the Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS) consolidated headquarters at 1925 E. Dublin-Granville Road, Suite 102. The service agency used to have its main office on the East Side with branches in the Hilltop area and on Sinclair Road.
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By ThisWeek Community News  • 

The blunt and bold ways of Americans are often perplexing for people who came to this country from other cultures.

For instance, many immigrants and refugees need to know it's important, not insulting, to make eye contact during a job interview.

Community Refugee and Immigration Services, a nonprofit organization that seeks to make settling in a new land a less jarring experience for clients, offered a variety of classes on workforce readiness at its Sinclair Road office.

These became very popular, according to CRIS Executive Director Angela K. Plummer.

Almost too popular.

"Students were just crammed together like sardines," Plummer said. "It got to be just too much. I started worry about safety. It was just over capacity for what made any sense.

"Our classrooms were bursting at the seams. Our landlord finally balked."

The property manager demanded that CRIS either lease five more suites in the same office building or find other accommodations.

The result, Plummer said, is that the organization was spurred to do something it had long considered, which was to bring all operations into a single location. CRIS also had employees working at an office on the East Side and another on the Hilltop.

Plummer said officials thought a single site would be a "better approach for serving clients."

Last week, a staff meeting for all employees was held at the new office, 1925 E. Dublin-Granville Road, Suite 102. Plummer said not only was it great to see everyone together in one place, but also nice for her to see some practically unfamiliar faces.

"There were folks who worked out of our west site office I didn't see very often," she said. "We've always had all-staff meetings on a quarterly basis, but it was great to have people in our west office ... to understand if they're dealing with an employment issue handled by people who worked in another office, 'Gosh, they're just down the hall.' "

Having everyone in one location will save money and improve efficiency, Plummer predicted.

An added bonus is that the new office includes space that is meant to serve as a classroom.

"Our classroom space, it's just fantastic," Plummer said. "It's an actual classroom and we just got some chairs with little desks, kind of like in a college classroom. It's really much more conducive to learning.

"I feel really good about it."

Locating all of the organization's operations in Northland also made sense.

"Most of the people who are coming to these classes live in the Northland area," Plummer said.

According to its website, CRIS began as an outreach service of the Buddhamamaka Society Inc., a mutual assistance association founded in 1987 by refugees from Laos.

In 1995, CRIS was established "in response to the unexpected closings of two local refugee resettlement offices in order to meet the evolving needs of central Ohio's increasingly diverse community."

Its first space was in a garage located next to the Lao Temple on Columbus' East Side. Initial funding came from a grant from the Columbus Foundation and a contract with the Franklin County Department of Human Services.

In 1999, CRIS opened its Hilltop office; that same year, it became an independent 501(c)(3) organization.

In 2001, CRIS became the Church World Service Ohio affiliate "to provide refugee resettlement services, reception and placement of refugees admitted to the United States from overseas" and opened a North Side office close to the growing refugee population in the area, according to the website.

The CRIS mission is to "help refugees and immigrants reach and sustain self-sufficiency and achieve successful integration into the central Ohio community."

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