Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Jane Strom: Celebrating a career of love and dedication at Catholic Charities

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Jane (second from left) with her Refugee Center team.
I can think of no one who deserves to be featured on The Open Door more than Jane Strom, who, as of Friday evening, is the happily retired Senior Program Manager of Catholic Charities' Refugee Center.  We’ll remember Jane for quite some time as a tireless defender of the needs and rights of refugees as they resettle in our region. Her career is marked as one that touched thousands of lives and helped us all enrich our own understanding of culture and community. 

At her retirement party with colleagues, it was fitting that one of those clients who Jane and her team had helped was on hand to say thank you.  

Edmond, a refugee from Northern Africa, was very thankful indeed for the English courses and job training the Refugee Center helped him with when he first arrived three years ago. He now works nights at the Home Depot, and during the day he continues to study English at Carlos Rosario International Charter School. A talented artist and sculptor, Edmond studied art and design back home. He created a very special gift to present to Jane to mark her retirement.

Named "Embrace," the swooping and curvaceous sculpture was carved from abandoned pieces of wood.  One end is the head of a woman, and curling around her back is the delicate frame of a child, holding on as the mother leads him to safety. He remarked that finding a new use for the discarded wood felt very similar to being a refugee – and to his experience with the Refugee Center.

Edmond apologized for his not-so-broken English more than once, but lauded Jane and the Refugee Center for "their patient and helpful staff.  I want to thank them so much for their time and their love," he said.

The Refugee Center benefits from volunteers from countries across the globe, including Burma, China, Colombia, Haiti, France, England, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Liberia, Cameron, Palestine, Iraq, Vietnam and Rwanda.  The program has become a crossroads for many cultures and peoples, all working together to help our neighbors who have come to begin anew.  The program offers employment placement, Job Club and ESOL (English as Other Language) services that are all culturally sensitive to refugees’ needs.

"The Refugee Center is a welcome haven where refugees are empowered by people of faith and good will that enable them to rebuild their shattered lives, reunite with their families and regain their God-given dignity," Jane said, quoting the Center's mission statement in her own remarks.

"Jane's only motive is to ensure the well-being of her clients and to best serve all those who come to our doors.  Her passion and joy are infectious.  And in that way she helps us all find passion within ourselves and encourages us to make a difference," said Ed Orzechowski, Catholic Charities President and CEO.

Thanks to a phenomenal staff and great volunteers, the Refugee Center boasts a 100 percent satisfaction rate among clients, who most often thank the staff simply for their friendship. All thanks to Jane's passion and joy in her work.

"I say, not Good-bye, but until we meet again," Jane said, smiling, at the end of her speech last Friday. "God bless you all."

Until we meet again, Jane. 

Happy retirement!

Learn more about the services we offer refugees and asylees at Catholic Charities’ Refugee Center.