Shirlington Employment & Education Center

Helping immigrants find employment, and women to start their own businesses in Arlington, VA

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00:05 These are very tough times for the immigrant community. But again, these are resilient communities just like your ancestors were when they arrived. There's nothing there, but it's a beautiful, beautiful picture if you get the politics out of it.

00:47 Hello, everyone, it's very exciting to be with you. I'm Kim Harding, Marketing Executive for Truist. And today I'm joined with a very special guest and business owner and is Andres Tobar.  Andres, we're really excited to have you today.

01:00 You've made such a meaningful impact in our communities for so many years. And you know, I would love to start with just getting to know, how did you get started with your business and your vision?

01:09 We started 20 years ago when there was a congregation of immigrant day laborers looking for work, and community activists like myself and others came together and said, we need to do something to address this issue. And we got Arlington County involved.

01:30 We've got community leaders and organizations to come together to discuss how can we humanely move a group of immigrant day laborers that are looking for employment? How can we move them on to resettle and to find employment on their own as opposed to congregating in Shirlington?

01:52 This is very close to my heart doing this work, My parents were immigrants from Mexico that came in here as farm workers in Texas and California, and I got an education, came out east to work in the U.S. Department of Education completed my career there and then saw in our local community that there was a tremendous need and I stepped up as well as I mentioned other folks and we said, What can we do to help these individuals get on their feet because everybody that comes over here is pursuing the American dream.

02:25 And so what can we do legally? Because as I've mentioned, I'm retired from the federal government. Everything we do is is above board and all we want to do is offer a helping hand. So we have been able to get the faith community involved to come up with meals offer temporary employment if they've got some job and Homeowners locally are also helping. It's a nonprofit.

02:48 We have a staff of three people. Then our job is to meet with individuals and talk to them about the kinds of things they can do if they need training.  Where can we provide some basic training for them?

03:00 And it's a tough job, but it's one that feels really good at the end of the day, providing that helping hand. I think it's so interesting how in the last few years, the term immigrant has had some sort of negative connotation. I think our country really misunderstands the process of immigration, and our country was built through immigration.

03:23 I mean, everyone who is here came from a generation that did not start here in America. We're not indigenous to this country. And so have you found through your work that you've been able to kind of help change people's perceptions of that and show how hardworking this population is and how eager they are for work and to participate in the American economy?

03:41 Well, I think when you bring compassion and you recognize that people come over here, leaving many of their families and relatives and communities to a country that where they don't speak the language, they bring the same American values that all of us have, and that's caring for their family, respect for others and just looking for an opportunity to be able to feed their families.

04:11 Yeah, I think that's one of the misconceptions that somehow the immigrant population is leaning on the American taxpayers and is taking advantage of the systems that are here. And it's quite the opposite. They're trying to participate legally in our laws and follow the rules and be an active part of the economy in the workforce.

04:27 And so it's wonderful that the work that you're doing is hopefully changing  some of those perceptions and that you're helping one by one each individual participate in something that should be available to all of us.

04:38 You touched on on a couple of items that I would like to address, and part of it is the misconception that they're here. They're a burden to our society. They're not number one, they're ineligible for any kind of federal or state support of any kind.

04:55 On the other hand, whenever they get a job and social security and other deductions are made from their wages, those funds go into the Social Security pension fund, and these folks have no opportunity to get access to the fund.

05:11 The other thing is the taxes. Whenever they go and buy food and anything else, they're paying taxes. They're getting no benefits because of their legal status. They're paying into our systems without getting any benefits. So it's a misrepresentation. If anybody says that immigrants are a burden to our society because they're not. There's such a gap of knowledge and real knowledge versus, you know, the things that we want to believe.

05:39 So what can others do to help support your efforts?

05:43 Funding, obviously, is something positive. If we had more resources we would be able to start a number of projects. For example, we'd like to hire a full time coordinator for women who are working in cleaning houses.

06:01 The other thing is that homeowners and the faith community and other folks that live in the surrounding area, if they have a temporary job, we have some talented folks that can paint that can do a variety of things within the home or as well as landscape jobs. And our guys are phenomenal in terms of moving jobs. So all of those things lend themselves to opportunities for folks.

06:31 We have a bakery right now that is sharing with us those donuts and pastries they don't sell at the end of the day. They give to us to distribute to the immigrant community so that some of the things that could be helpful in terms of volunteers or other efforts.

06:48 That's great. Thank you so much for sharing that. It really just helps me understand how we as a community can come together and do so much good.

06:55 And you think about just fulfilling the dreams that we all have and really making this place an exceptional place to live and not just for some, but for all. So really excited about how we can all come together and do the mighty work that you've started to do and have had so much passion about for over 20 years and continue to do it's really inspiring.

07:15 The golden rule is treat others as you'd like to be treated. There are some people that have forgotten that rule, and I hope that as time goes on that we can revisit that and embrace it and move forward as we go along.