World Relief Quad Cities (WRQC) has helped new immigrants and refugees find a local home for the past 24 years.
For the first time, the resettlement agency itself has a new home in the Iowa QC, as well as a new executive director.
Jen Osing, a seven-year World Relief veteran, succeeded former executive director Laura Fontaine on Aug. 1, 2023, and is welcoming the public today at an open house in its new digs – in downtown Davenport, 210 Emerson Place, Suite 300 (above Barrel House), off 2nd Street and Pershing Avenue.
The open house for the new offices is today from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and WRQC is planning a formal QC Chamber ribbon-cutting next May.
“We’ve seen refugee numbers increase over time, especially with what’s happening in Ukraine and Afghanistan,” Osing (a 2014 Augustana College alum) said Tuesday morning. The fiscal year that began Oct. 1 will see the largest number of refugees allocated to the QC area, especially with the opening of the Scott County site.
“We’re able to welcome more refugees from more countries, and provide more services than we’ve ever able to do,” she said. That’s estimated to be 120 new refugees through the Davenport office and 425 through Moline (to Sept. 30, 2024).
This year is expected to be the largest partly because the Biden Administration has capped the number of refugees nationwide to 125,000 (similar to his first two years in office), compared to just 18,000 four years ago.
‘The Administration is welcoming and we also expect more with our Scott County office opening,” Osing said. “we’re able to have two separate pipelines of refugee arrivals allows us to increase our capacity, which we’re really excited about.”
The QC area also attracts many “secondary” refugees, or those who first came to this country in another city and moved here, often because the cost of living is much less than bigger cities, she said.
In Rock Island County, World Relief resettled 350 in the last fiscal year. The agency works to resettle within a 100-mile radius, but the vast majority of its clients stay within Rock Island County, Osing said.
“Typically, families want to be where the community is,” she said of other immigrants and refugees, noting Congolese in Rock Island and Sudanese in East Moline. Rock Island High School is the second most ethnically-diverse high school in the state, she added.
World Relief doesn’t often see people who resettle in Rock Island County moving across the river to Scott County.
Previously World Relief Moline, World Relief Quad Cities began serving refugees in 1999 as a sub-office of World Relief Chicago. Since 1999, the nonprofit has served over 3,000 refugees and immigrants in Rock Island County.
The local agency (based at 1852 16th St. Moline) works to provide financial, emotional, cultural, and spiritual support to refugees – victims of war and persecution around the world – who are being placed in the Quad Cities.
WRQC is no longer a sub-office of Chicago (there are about 20 World Relief offices across the country, including new ones in Eau Claire, Wis., and Austin, Tex.). Arrivals are based on who’s in the area, Osing said.
Many come to this region to join family or friends already here, and some refugees come without knowing anyone. There are 10 refugee resettlement agencies in the U.S. (including World Relief), and World Relief helps about 10 percent of the total, Osing said.
“The world is facing an unprecedented global displacement crisis in which record numbers of people have been forced to flee war, persecution, and instability,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in September. “The United States has worked to rebuild, streamline, and expand the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.”
In 2023, the Department of State, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, launched the Welcome Corps, an innovative program that empowers everyday Americans to welcome refugees arriving through the U. S. Refugee Admissions Program, as well as Welcome Corps on Campus, a targeted higher education sponsorship initiative that enables U.S. colleges and universities to play a leading role in resettling refugee students.
“Admitting 125,000 refugees—an ambitious target not achieved in three decades—is now within reach,” Blinken said.
President Joe Biden is set to host a first-of-its-kind summit with representatives of 11 countries next month to address the hemisphere’s growing immigration struggles.
The Americas Summit is set to be held Nov. 3 in Washington and hosted by the president, who has invited leaders of Barbados, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay to attend.
From Chicago to QC
Osing grew up in the Chicago suburb of Batavia, and went to Augustana, chosen for its quality and proximity to home, she said.
At Augie, she majored in biochemistry and French. Osing studied for a six-week summer program in France (based in Dijon), before her college sophomore year. She’s also traveled to many other European countries.
“I just love meeting new people, learning small bits about their language,” she said. “I love learning from other people.”
Prior to joining World Relief in June 2016, Osing earned a master’s degree in public health in epidemiology from the University of Texas at Houston and interned with the Illinois Department of Public Health. She has volunteered for other non-profits such as the American Cancer Society to support their event planning and fundraising efforts.
Osing originally wanted to work in community public health, and started doing medical case management with World Relief, helping many single-parent households and single mothers access care, reducing some of the barriers like transportation and language.
Most families were eligible for Medicaid for insurance, she said.
“I loved it at the time and I still love it,” Osing said of World Relief. “We have such a good team and the families we get to serve are just incredible to work with.”
Before taking over World Relief QC, Osing was director of case management, including overseeing the housing department. She has hired her own successor, to start Nov. 16th.
She’s still looking to fill some jobs in Davenport, including an employment specialist and health navigator.
In Moline, they’ve been there six years, first on the first floor, and expanding this year to the whole 18,000-square-foot building. Staff has grown by about 20 in the past year, thanks to additional funding from the home office, other grants, and the Davenport expansion.
A paragon of virtue
They chose Davenport’s Emerson Place as a central downtown location, close to other businesses and the Scott Community College Urban Campus, Osing said. “It’s a beautiful, welcoming building. I love the exposed brick and the big windows,” she said.
The new WRQC home was formerly occupied by Paragon Commercial Interiors, which moved from the 3,000-square-foot space to the TBK Bank building in downtown Bettendorf.
World Relief has hired a staff of 15 for the Davenport office. Many employees will serve both sites, Osing said. There are 35-40 in Moline, which grew over the past year as the nonprofit expanded into the entire two-story building, including a warehouse.
“We’ve historically had a lot of strong partnerships in the Quad Cities…We saw a need to increase our capacity to help with what’s going in the world,” she said. “We knew the Quad Cities was welcoming; the infrastructure is here; the community partnerships are here, and it just made a lot of sense to expand in Scott County.”
“We can’t do this work alone – we have to do it in partnership with the community,” Osing said. “Branching out to Scott County allows us to have a more formal process in place to make sure we can partner with the community to do this work well.”
World Relief has a lot of donors, volunteers and churches in Scott County that are involved, and its partner organizations include the QC Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, Tapestry Farms, Community Health Care, Project NOW and Skip-A-Long.
World Relief QC was approved for its new office through the home office and U.S. State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
WRQC works with the year-old Uniting for Ukraine program, a streamlined process to provide Ukrainian citizens who have fled Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression opportunities to come to the U.S. Other communities working to resettle Ukrainians include Muscatine, Burlington and Fort Madison, Iowa, Osing said.
There only have been a few resettled in the QC, while Fort Madison has taken in 50 Ukrainians. The Afghan resettlement was major for World Relief, welcoming over 300 refugees, mostly in Moline and Rock Island, she said.
“It was challenging, because we were understaffed,” Osing said. “We were able to hire additional staff, but it took time to hire and train. It was a lot of work with the pace of arrivals. We saw sometimes, 15 and 20 people coming in one week, with limited notice. It was an all hands on deck.”
There are many former refugees or first-generation Americans on the World Relief staff, with 30 languages spoken among employees, Osing said.
“Being a trusted messenger in the community is important, and having those community ambassadors is key,” she said.
In general, affordable housing is fairly accessible in the QC area and World Relief has good relationships with housing groups and property managers, Osing said.
“A lot of that is due to our housing manager, who’s really good at what she does,” she said, noting they educate landlords and property management companies on what World Relief does.
“The biggest challenge we face is large families that are coming, if you have 12 or 13 trying to find a home, and if we have a lot of families arriving at the same time,” Osing said.
For more information, visit the WRQC website HERE.