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Program helps foreign-born workers

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As global conflict, international disasters and humanitarian crises ignite around the world, it can make for despairing times for the many internationally-born workers in the Greater Lehigh Valley.

To answer the call, the American Red Cross of Northeast Pennsylvania developed an initiative to reach out to businesses in the 16 counties in its region and locally launch the International Services program. The program helps to reconnect, trace and message the families of the region’s foreign-born workers, as well as others, in the Greater Lehigh Valley, during or after a global crisis.

“I am very empathetic to anything that is done to improve the welfare of the foreign-born workers in our community,” said Alvaro Diaz, former executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Lehigh Valley.

Among the Lehigh Valley businesses on the potential invitational list for the organization’s March 14 outreach meeting are Dorney Park in Allentown and Amazon in Upper Macungie Township, who employ many foreign-born workers.

“If you have mentally happy workers, they will be more productive,” said Jen Pierce, international services director for the American Red Cross of Northeast Pennsylvania.

In future months, the Red Cross will continue its outreach meetings in other counties in its region, including for businesses in Berks that seasonally employ migrant workers.

“The International Services program is a benefit to businesses and their employees,” said Wendy Solomon, a volunteer for American Red Cross of the Greater Lehigh Valley, part of the Northeast Pennsylvania chapter. “It’s a humane thing to do for a worker, especially one who is in distress over a loved one experiencing a disaster in his or her home country.”

Red Cross of Northeast Pennsylvania analyzed the population of the 16 counties in its chapter, including Lehigh, Northampton, Berks, Carbon and Monroe, and found that the Burmese population is the highest international sector in the region. In addition, it found that origins of the Dominican Republic, Philippines and Syria are sizable populations in the Greater Lehigh Valley.

“This service is so important to help the morale and well-being of an employee in this situation,” Pierce said. “You can’t imagine the distress they must feel, not knowing the fate of their loved ones overseas.”

Pierce said to implement the program locally, the Northeast Red Cross chapter first will educate its staff on what the International Services program can do.

External outreach consists of meetings that will be held in each of the 16 counties in its region, when businesses will be invited to hear about the International Services program and how it might benefit the company’s foreign-born workforce. The first meeting is noon March 14 in the Capital Blue Cross center at the Promenade Shops in Center Valley.

If a worker is worried about the fate of a disconnected family member overseas, he or she can interview with the local Red Cross chapter. For the tracing service, the information will be transferred to a Red Cross chapter in the last known country of the missing loved one, where teams would disperse to try to find the family member.

“We are excited about the statistics and population of our area and its diversity,” Pierce said. “I am hopeful we will reach out and find where they are and that at least one person might need these services.”

Another initiative in the International Services program is a messaging service, which is similar to tracing. In this instance, the worker knows the location of a loved one but might need to send to him or her a message, official document or photo. In this instance, the worker’s family member is typically in a refugee camp, detainment prison or in deportation, with no other means of communication.

“We are a humanitarian organization,” Pierce said. “We are neutral and impartial, and we are able to help everyone.”

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Jennifer Glose

Jennifer Glose

Reporter Jennifer Glose covers health care, Berks County and other topics. She can be reached at jenniferg@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 111. Follow her on Twitter @jenniferg_LVB and read her blog, “Networking,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/networking-blog.

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