At Lincoln South Rotary Club on January 7 we we had a presentation on how Lincoln's volunteers rise to the challenge of welcoming and integrating refugees from around the world. The presentation was by Clay Naff of Lincoln Literacy Council.
Clay started his presentation by talking about his background - how it was a natural fit for him to help immigrants.
When he was young his Father was training as a historian and moved his family to London. Later he took a job which meant a move to Cairo. It was not until Clay was 10 that he returned to the United States. Though he spoke English, he did not know the life. He shared that he had not been exposed to things like The Jetsons and other things happening in America. He felt like a foreigner. It took a few years for him to get comfortable.
Then, as an adult, he became a foreign correspondent which meant he moved out of the United States. In each location he shared that he struggled with every day activities such as the bus system. He learned what it was like to be in a new world.
When he got the opportunity to become the Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy, he knew it was a perfect fit. He understood the struggles of those seeking services. With the mission " strengthen our community by teaching the English language and a variety of literacy skills to people of all cultures" Clay found this to be the most rewarding opportunity of all of his jobs.
Clay talked about the current employment crisis. The unemployment rate is the lowest it has ever been. There are 7 to 9 jobs for every job seeker. This causes a crisis for the companies and organizations looking for employees. We lost a number of workers during the pandemic, many did not return to work. And, with the number of baby boomers retiring there are more not working than collecting unemployment. There is a source of employees - new Americans.
Lincoln was named one of the top 10 cities in the United States for welcoming immigrants and refugees. Thanks to hundreds of trained volunteers we have been able to serve hundreds from all over the world. 
Clay showed us the Lincoln Literacy Calendar which is full of classes and activities every day of the week - morning, afternoon and evening. They were able to finish the fall term in mid-December in person. But with the current surge in COVID cases they are considering how to start the next term. 
They have served over 1000 people per year the past several years. During the pandemic they gave out 100 chromebooks and also helped pay for internet service to allow participants to continue with their studies.
They started a program for CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants) with a number of medical staff as volunteers. Often the new Americans have medical training and experience in their home country. But, while trying to test once in the United States their failure rate is over 70%. With some help with understanding the language and translation and a few changes in treatment expectations, there is increased success.
The Bridgeway program offers assistance to others with job skills and education but, once they come to the United States, they need help transitioning. They have helped individuals become para educators, truck drivers and prepared others for manufacturing jobs. The Afghans that they have met have been eager to learn how to become productive members of the community.
Lincoln Literacy is filling the needs of the community and our new Americans. The community needs workers and the new Americans need jobs.
In August 2020, as Afghans were fleeing the Taliban, Lincoln Literacy prepared for 100. There are nearly 74,000 in the Country. At first they were housed in military facilities, getting vaccines and preparing them for a more to a permanent location. To date Lincoln has received only about 30 and there are 6 more coming in the near future. In actuality we will plan to serve 200 from of these Afghans.
Clay shared the story of Laila Ayubzai. She came to us a number of years ago. Her husband was murdered by the Taliban. She fled to Pakistan with her 6 children. She was given permission to immigrate to the United States. She came to Lincoln Literacy for help. She was able to improve her English Language skills. She was accepted to South Community College and, at the same time, her oldest daughter was accepted to UNL. Laila now manages her own business - The Corner Kitchen.
Clayton Naff has been executive director of Lincoln Literacy since 2006. Prior to going into nonprofit leadership, Naff was an international journalist. He served as Tokyo correspondent for United Press International, a freelance reporter for National Public Radio in Japan, and a research assistant for TIME magazine in Cairo, Egypt. 
In 1998, he changed careers and became executive director of Community Action of Nebraska. In 2002, he transitioned to become executive director of Nebraska Citizens for Science. After three years in that post, he was hired as executive director of Lincoln Literacy, where he continues to serve. In that time the organization has grown into a citywide network of learning centers, primarily for adult English language learners.
Thanks to hundreds of trained volunteer tutors, Lincoln Literacy serves over 1,000 people a year, most of them refugees or immigrants. In 2011, Naff was named Lincoln's Nonprofit Executive of the Year. He continues to push Lincoln Literacy to new levels of innovation and excellence.