Last month, Nepalese refugee Lachhi Bharati and her three daughters arrived at the Louisville airport late on a Tuesday night.
Workers from resettlement agency Kentucky Refugee Ministries are here by the KFC in front of arrivals with signs and cheers to welcome them. Employees from the advertising and PR firm Doe-Anderson are there, too.
The Louisville-based Doe-Anderson has partnered with refugee resettlement agency Kentucky Refugee Ministries for a pilot program to help integrate the city’s newcomers.
“Even though we only know a little bit about this family, we’re very excited,” said account manager Maureen Johnson.
Businesses helping the city’s newly arrived refugees is not unprecedented. But Doe-Anderson employees plan to play more of a role in the integration process, such as taking newcomers to medical appointments and enrolling kids in school. And workers can use company time for those tasks.
The company has been waiting since June to welcome a family. But due to snags created by President Donald Trump’s travel bans as well as problems for some refugees getting clearance, the company’s employees haven’t been sure when their family would arrive. Employees have helped set up apartments, and accumulated donated household items for at least three families — just to be told at the last minute that the family wasn’t allowed to travel.
Doe-Anderson Chief Operating Officer John Birnsteel said many of the workers at his company are young. And besides helping the city’s newcomers, allowing employees to volunteer during work hours also helps them feel more connected to their work and community. This leads to lower staff turnover.
By mid-December, the Bharati family has been in Louisville for a few weeks. Last Friday afternoon, the family, minus oldest daughter Riya, 9, who’s in school, arrive at the Doe-Anderson offices.
There, the Bharatis are given puffy coats as gifts to help them acclimate to the weather in their new home. Middle daughter Rista, 6, who is deaf, eats cookies and pretzels in a leopard-print hat and scarf and her new coat. She uses sign language to communicate with her mom and three-year-old sister Hratica.
Since their arrival, employees at Doe-Anderson have helped the family get social security cards, enroll Riya in school, and take the kids to doctor’s appointments.
Today, Doe-Anderson account manager Emily Weisenbarger is taking them to the Kentucky Science Center. “Today’s event at the Science Center is the first fun thing we’ve gotten to do with them. So we’ve been looking forward to this for a while,” she said.
The company hopes to set an example for other Louisville businesses, showing them how these kinds of partnerships with city organizations can both benefit a business and help integrate the city’s newcomers.