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Study: From Burma to Minnesota, Refugees find a piece of the good life in Austin, MN

Karenni Kay Htoe Boe Festival in Austin, MN (Photo Credit: Barbara Stone, 2016)
Karenni Kay Htoe Boe Festival in Austin, MN (Photo Credit: Barbara Stone, 2016)

Refugees are buying houses, raising their kids, and settling into a small, rural Minnesota community -- all with help from Lifetrack's innovative employment model

“The Austin community is good. They are nice. Many cultures come together here.” -- Refugee Participant 

“My daughter’s best friend‘s parents are immigrants. Having that relationship has opened up our worldviews. I think we have some opportunities with kids, for the moms and dads to connect as well.” -- Austin Community Member Participant

Lifetrack has worked with new immigrants and refugees for more than twenty years, helping families settle in, secure meaningful employment and cut out a piece of the American Dream for their families. Because of the intense competition for steady, full-time employment for people with limited or no English in the Twin Cities area, several years ago Lifetrack started focusing on job openings in smaller cities, and vetting areas that would be receptive to newcomers from Burma.

In 2011, Lifetrack created a new effort to place Karen, Karenni and Chin refugees in jobs in Austin, Minnesota. Six years later, what was the impact of this work? Graduate-level researcher, Barbara Stone of the University of Minnesota led a research project to help answer that question. Stone set out to evaluate how successful refugees were at becoming a part of their new community and how Lifetrack helped in this process. What was found: Nearly all refugees who participated in the study said that they were happy and enjoyed the small town life.

Karen and Karenni families have purchased over 100 homes in Austin, a clear sign of increased economic security. Cross-cultural relationships were built through community events, kids’ friendships, and work environments. In all, Lifetrack has made lasting, positive effects, not only for refugee families, but for the Austin community as a whole. Stone’s report will be published early this year and will be the first detailed documentation in English in the country of the Karenni cultural group. She has been invited by the International Academy for Intercultural Research to present her findings at its conference in New York in June 2017. 

Read the full report here.

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