2007 Community Report

Report On The Somali Community

The SCAO staff, continues to work diligently to meet new needs by providing additional services in the coming year.


In 1991 the central government of Somali collapsed. Civil war raged and Somali’s citizens spiraled into a nightmare of loss – destruction of homes, separation of families, famine and death. Statistics on the number of people murdered range as high as one million or more and even today this number continues to rise. Most people left all their belongings and many even left family as they fled violence and instability to live in refugee camps.

The struggle of survival began and refugees entered the process of immigration. Somali refugees began arriving in the United States, and since 1995, Columbus, Ohio has been a popular destination. It is estimated that 40,000 to 45,000 Somali refugees call Columbus home and more are expected in the future.

In 2000 the Somali Community Association of Ohio (SCAO) began the daunting task of providing assistance to hundreds of these refugees and immigrants. Men, women, young adults and school children walk through our doors every day searching for access to the community’s services. In a uniquely tailored environment, dedicated staff and volunteers who understand the language and culture of Somali, help new families learn about the language, culture and lifestyle in America.

SCAO’s outreach services assist people from Columbus’ north, east and west sides, and throughout Central Ohio. Many others come for help who relocate from Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan and other states.

Organizations and individuals from a wide range of Somali and American educational, political and private institutions work with the SCAO delivering services to our refugee and immigrant population. African immigrants from Ethiopia and Ghana, and even low-income African-Americans are provided services too.

It is a source of pride that citizenship status has been achieved by as many as 4,000 to 5,000 Somali men and women whose path to this reward began by walking through the doors of the SCAO. Individuals are educated and encouraged to become citizens by all staff and volunteers.

More than 400 to 500 Somali businesses, from Mom and Pop to shopping malls, are operating profitably, creating a positive economic impact in Columbus today. The SCAO supports these businesses through partnership with and outreach to community organizations that extend helping hands to those immigrants who strive for financial independence through business ownership, living the American dream.

Many of our refugee families, lacking basic English language skills and unfamiliar with the everyday challenges of the educational system in their new community, look to the staff and volunteers of the SCAO to help their children with school enrollment, after-school tutoring and mentoring services. Unfortunately for many families who depend on such important and necessary services, these programs are no longer an option due to lack of funding.

High unemployment rates among teenagers and young adults are having a major impact on young Somalis. Many turn to street corner drug dealers and other opportunists who prey on the uninformed and impoverished. To counteract these negative influences, the SCAO, along with funding partners, promotes and provides jobs and other programs that help to create financial independence, a safe haven and positive role models.

A great percentage of individuals served by the SCAO are senior citizens who face specific challenges, especially those relating to loss of health care. Some refugees and immigrants are allowed to receive SSI benefits for up to seven years. But after the seventh year if an individual does not attain U.S. citizenship, he or she risks losing all social security income and medical assistance. For the aged, learning a new language, culture and country history can be overwhelming and citizenship a difficult task to accomplish.

The SCAO is a non profit organization that relies entirely on funding and resources received from government programs, foundations and other non profits to sustain our services. Although much of the funding received is performance based, results show we consistently meet and even exceed numbers. For instance, in 2006, we were required to place one-hundred people in jobs by the fourth quarter. Two-hundred unemployed individuals, who enrolled in our job programs, were gainfully employed and are now productive, tax paying individuals.

Thirteen men and women attended and completed computer literacy classes in the SCAO’s computer lab, receiving certification at Microsoft Word Level I, greatly enhancing their opportunity to attain and retain employment.

The SCAO has assisted as many as 60,000 family members since it opened its doors to the community. A diversity of services are provided including ESL classes, workforce development, job skills training and job retention, translation and interpretation, case management, meals-on-wheels for seniors, housing referrals, legal and advocacy services, case management, faxing, telephone and copying assistance, youth workforce development.

Continuing these services can only be possible if government agencies and others we depend on for funding are willing to share responsibility and resources.

The needs of the immigrant and refugee community continue to grow along with the growing population. In order to abate the serious issues that are rising along with the population, decisive action must be taken now. The SCAO is working diligently with law enforcement, political action groups, community service organizations and government agencies to improve and maximize the services and to minimize future problems. To overcome the daily challenges immigrants and refugees face in order to transition into productive members of the mainstream, these crucial barriers must be dealt with now:

• Expanded educational opportunities for adults and children
• In-house legal services
• Immigration and citizenship
• Housing availability and affordability
• Transportation
• Day care
• Senior citizen services

We believe that it is in the united power of SCAO’s committed staff, volunteers, government agencies, other non profit organizations, and public and private foundation partners to fulfill our mission of self sufficiency, economic empowerment and productive citizenship for every member of our community.

Currently, the SCAO is planning an open house event on August 9, 2007, sponsored by our Central Ohio Workforce Investment (COWIC) youth summer program.