Refugee Success in U.S.

Bakar Ali pictured at a graduation ceremony with his mentor Jim KurtBakar Ali has a story worth telling. It is a story of refugee success  that will amaze you and make you ask how one person could achieve so much in just five years. In 2009 he was a young refugee resettling in Lansing. He was alone in a strange new environment that was further complicated by his deafness.  (Bakar became deaf at the age of 16.)  “STVCC helped me with my resettlement in Lansing by finding me a place to live, helped me find a job and connected me with a wonderful mentor. STVCC has helped to turn my life into a brighter future,” said Bakar.

The STVCC Refugee Resettlement program staff asked Jim Kurt, a current Board member of STVCC, if he would be willing to be a mentor to Bakar. “My first impression of Jim was how he introduced himself to me. He talked gently and communicated with me by writing notes back and forth to each other because of my deafness and inability to speak. Fortunately, I could read and write English. He learned about me by “listening” to my stories while I did the same to learn more about him,” shared Bakar Ali.

The mentor/mentee relationship has continued for five years. “We were dedicated to working together. I was willing to work hard and ask for what I needed. Jim was always willing to go above and beyond to obtain information to help me achieve my goals. In this relationship there is great trust and respect.”

 This Refugee Success Story

Although Bakar Ali has only lived in the US for 5 years, he has achieved great success in overcoming obstacles and attaining his goals for citizenship and education. Throughout his time in school he always made time for community service activities.  “My own experience demands it,” says Bakar about his volunteer work.  “I have personally experienced many of the challenges my communities face.  I once was homeless; been denied entrance to schools because of my deafness; and in Somalia experienced wars, violence and starvation.  My past experience has shaped me and sharpened my sympathy for those who need help, and taught me the importance of being compassionate. I believe that personal success depends on community success, and without a strong community where everyone gets the respect and the assistance they need, you will not have a thriving community.”

Just two years after arriving in the United States, Bakar graduated from Lansing Community College with honors. During this time he worked a full time night shift job and carried 16-18 credit hours per semester. His education continued at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where he graduated in May, 2014, with a double major in Urban and Community Studies and International and Global Studies and a minor in Political Science. Now a graduate student at NYU, Bakar just cast his first vote as a US Citizen, and received the Distinguished Public Service Award for his service in Somalia and in the RIT community of Rochester.

At every milestone his mentor, Jim Kurt, has been there to support and celebrate. This is a great example of the rich rewards to be found from volunteering.

If you are interested volunteering or becoming a mentor contact Dr. Thomas Woods at

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