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So does the White House. Last summer, the National Security Council appointed an interagency task force to come up with recommendations, due in February, on how to revamp the resettlement system.
Foster hopes that will mean more money for agencies like JVS. "We understand that it's a public-private partnership and we do our part with that," Foster says, her eyes again brimming with tears. "But JVS has been very much challenged this year, and we've managed to put a lot of resources in this program. It's been the hardest eight months of resettlement I've ever been involved in."
JVS doesn't have a development director or full-time fundraiser on staff, Foster says, and no specific campaign is in place to raise public awareness or seek private donors for the refugee program. Instead, program directors write grant proposals for every service JVS offers — resettlement is just one. In 2009, she and Weitkamp submitted seven new proposals for refugee funding and got four of them, adding $160,000 to the strained budget. The $128,000 that JVS raised in 2009 from nongrant donations is a figure derived largely from values assigned to donated goods and supplies, not cash.
Karen Janas thinks that JVS — and Foster — could do better. After nearly 30 years with the organization, Janas resigned her position as director of the refugee program in April. Janas says the hardships that have been passed on to the refugees could have been avoided with more aggressive planning. "Twenty thousand dollars would be nothing to raise. In the Jewish community, it could be done like that," she says, pausing to snap her fingers, "if it had been a goal." She says she left because of Foster's management style and what she calls a hostile work environment at JVS.
She wasn't the only one. Another longtime employee, Ralph Levy, resigned his position as director of the sheltered workshop and IT in March. Levy summed up his concerns in a letter to the organization's board of directors in June. He suggested that whistle-blowers face retaliation. "Most recently," he wrote, "three employees who had presented information to the executive concerning inadequate housing for refugees were terminated after a newspaper article pointed out these very deficiencies." Levy cited concerns that the organization was "accepting excessive numbers of refugees that the organization was unable to support." He also wrote that some employees had been prohibited from including overtime hours on their time sheets.
That last claim is now in the hands of the Circuit Court of Jackson County. In October, three former JVS caseworkers in the resettlement program filed a lawsuit alleging that, for nearly two years, they worked overtime for which they were not paid. "Some of them work 24/7, and I'm not kidding," Janas says. Many, she adds, were making up for gaps in funding by opening their own wallets.
In 2004, when JVS had fewer than 330 refugees, there were four caseworkers. Right now, JVS has six — one of whom handles only refugees with significant medical issues — who will support a predicted 450 refugees this year. About the pending litigation, Foster will say only that JVS has not violated the law.
Habum Woldetatios peered through the peephole when somebody came knocking at his apartment on the morning of November 1. The newly arrived refugee from Ethiopia didn't recognize the man at his doorstep. After several minutes, the stranger disappeared, and the six-unit complex just east of Benton Boulevard was quiet.