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HEARD ON THE BEAT in Orange County

Santa Ana Refugee Group Receives Grant

June 09, 1998|PATRICE APODACA

The Cambodian Family, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Ana that provides employment services to political refugees living in central and south Orange County, is doing its part to help move welfare recipients into the work force. It recently got a $1.22-million federal grant to help welfare-dependent Cambodians find jobs and become self-sufficient. The group is expected to use the money to help place 125 people in nonsubsidized employment, mostly in manufacturing.

But the organization's efforts don't end there, said Rifka Hirsch, executive director of Cambodian Family. "We have to be there even after a job to try to make sure it sticks, that they stay there," she said. In many cases, that means continuing on-site training and English classes. The organization also provides health education and youth programs.

The continuing support is particularly critical now, she said, because the Cambodian refugees who remain on public assistance today are most likely to be chronically dependent on welfare--"those who have had the hardest time adjusting to life in America," she said. But under the federal welfare-to-work rules, the clock is ticking on the welfare benefits they're entitled to receive.

The multifaceted program attempts to remove the barriers to work, which often include a lack of English-language skills, physical and emotional disabilities that persist from years of trauma and near-starvation, and a fear of leaving the relative security of welfare.

The organization also works with refugees from Vietnam, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Russia and other countries, even though they are not covered by the grant. Even if they all get jobs, Hirsch said, "our organization will have plenty of work" in helping to keep them employed. "If they become working poor, that becomes a whole range of new problems."

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Patrice Apodaca covers economic issues for The Times. She can be reached at (714) 966-5979 and at patrice.apodaca@latimes.com.

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