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Image of a person climbing a ladder with a helping hand

One of the unique challenges for Maximus’ Orange County CalWORKs project has been helping Afghan refugees whose temporary refugee assistance has expired. As of February 2022, more than 400 Afghan families were settled in Orange County.

A majority of the refugees have not yet received their Social Security cards, making them ineligible for work. At the same time, many are still living in motels as part of their transition to the United States.

“They’re just out of their element trying to get their basic needs taken care of,” says Maria Waziri. “Right now there’s a huge language barrier and we are doing our best to recruit as many Farsi-speaking staff as possible, but there just aren’t that many in the area.”

The project’s current focus is getting refugees comfortable with their surroundings and positioning them to pursue work once they can. This has involved connecting them to transportation, locating childcare, and enrolling participants in English as a Second Language (ESL) courses.

The vast majority do not own a car, so Waziri’s staff familiarizes them with local bus routes, and connects them with community organizers who ride with them at first and show them where to get on and off. Helping new refugees locate childcare has been more challenging.

“They're in a new country. They don't want to leave their children with people they don't know,” says Waziri. “This is not a customary thing for them to do. In their country, somebody from the family was always home with the children.”

While many of these services are not typical for most of Waziri’s general participant base, they serve the same purpose: putting these newcomers in a position to pursue work and rebuild their lives.