World Refugee Day is observed annually on June 20 and is dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees. It is also a day to recognize the contributions of refugees in our communities. Last year, Tacoma Community House served 176 refugees from 17 countries. TCH has been serving refugees for many years. Significant efforts were made during the 1970s, when the U.S. concluded the war in Vietnam. Thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia fled the Communist regime and many came to the United States. Washington State was the third highest recipient of these refugees, behind California and Texas. One of the first organizations to respond to the needs of Asian refugees was Tacoma Community House. In an effort to help refugees transition, TCH provided counseling, information on employment and educational opportunities, orientation, interpretive services, and English as a Second Language classes.
With the wave of refugees in the 1970s, there were many who came through the doors of TCH seeking hope and one individual remains to this day. His name is Paul Many. Paul first came to TCH for English as a Second Language classes in the months after arriving in Pierce County from war-torn Laos. Paul said the counselors and teachers were “great and encouraged him to further his education.” Once he completed ESL classes Paul took the advice he received and went on to pursue a degree while he continued to visit TCH. He formed lasting friendships with two of his instructors—Candy Carbone and Margo Trevino. In 1982, a position opened in the Employment Department at TCH. Candy encouraged Paul to apply and he did. With Candy’s help, and Paul’s perseverance, he got the job with TCH as a Job Developer and has been a fixture of the agency ever since. (Photographed above is Paul on the right assisting two clients)
As the agency’s mission has broadened, so has Paul’s reach, touching not only new immigrants, but the poor of all origins, including native-born. “That’s the way it should be,” says Paul, who appreciates the cultural mix and the opportunity to give back to the nation that took him in when he was just a teenager. For the past 33 years, Paul has dedicated himself to the community and his mission at TCH is to establish partnerships with area businesses to fill jobs that fit the desires, abilities and wage requirements of his clients. Often, he drives clients to and from job interviews. He tells them to familiarize themselves with each enterprise beforehand so that they are prepared both to respond to questions and offer a few of their own. When they get hired he’s thrilled, and in the months that follow, he visits job sites to make sure expectations are met.
The key to Paul’s success in placing clients, is forming relationships with employers; ensuring that employers benefit from their relationship with TCH. “I like talking to employers,” he says. “We always have repeat customers.” Regular contacts include Menzies Aviation, Marshalls, and Safeway. Some in-house job fairs have featured representatives from Concrete Technology Corporation, Ostroms, and Home Depot.
Driven by his compassion to serve his community, Paul has helped countless participants find jobs. Acting Client Services Director, Jason Scales, says “The most amazing part of Paul’s story is how many lives he has changed. He has placed too many people to count in jobs. No one does a better job of representing TCH and our clients to the business community. Paul, as humble as he is, never takes credit for it. He always gives credit to others. The plain and simple fact is that there would not be an Employment Department at TCH without Paul Many.” Under the passion and motivation of Paul, the Employment Department has thrived and now offers more programs and services.
Through his work at TCH, Paul has touched the lives of thousands of job seekers, and frequently bumps into them around town. When they thank him for his help, he sometimes has trouble remembering their names. It’s no wonder why: He usually counsels 30 clients a month. Executive Director, Liz Dunbar, expresses, “Paul Many has a special gift of finding the right job for the right participant. He is one of a kind and we are lucky to have him.” He is a headhunter for the powerless, a talent scout on behalf of the poor, among them job seekers who scarcely speak English. To many people—Paul is a source of inspiration, encouragement and a crucial piece that helps keep his clients and TCH moving forward.
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