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Navigating a New Life

Gloria, a refugee from Congo, was wearing a traditional African dress, her hair tied up ornately in a scarf, carrying a bag with manila folders full of important documents. It was her first day of work as an essential employee, sewing masks during the pandemic. She and CCC employment specialist, Mary Lowder, were waiting at the bus stop.

Only one month before, Gloria and her family had arrived in the United States. Despite having never learned to read or write or even hold a pencil, Gloria has already mastered a variety of new skills in the United States—including filling out a job application and going to an interview.

On her first day of work at her new job, she and Mary waited at the bus stop at 5:30 in the morning. The bus arrived and Mary pointed at the big, orange letters and numbers moving across the top of the bus. “Eleven,” said Mary, pointing.

"Eleven," Gloria repeated, staring at the number, committing it to memory.

Together the women rode to the transfer station in downtown Roanoke, learning to navigate the bus line. For Mary, this wasn't an unusual day, but for Gloria it was life-changing.

A short time later, Mary made a similar journey with two young men who were also getting ready to start their new jobs as essential workers. Sitting in the transfer station, she noticed two Afghan women whom CCC had helped resettle in January. They smiled and waved as they passed. When Mary and the young men climbed the steps to board their own bus, she noticed a woman in a brightly-colored African dress. It was Gloria. She had done it! She was navigating the bus line and getting herself to work every day, making a new life in America.

"It is so easy to walk around Roanoke and overlook the people who exist in it," said Mary. "But that morning I saw five refugees, five individuals on their way to work to perform essential tasks for their neighbors in Roanoke."

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