History of Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization

IRCO is unique in that it was founded by refugees for refugees over 35 years ago and continues to be governed and operated by a majority refugee and immigrant Board and staff. Read our story below of how we came to be and check out ways to get involved with IRCO today.

 
 

The Back Story

In 1975, following the political upheaval in Southeast Asia, Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians began fleeing their homelands by the tens of thousands.

The majority of these people fled overland to Thailand or via boat to Malaysia and other neighboring countries in the region although a fortunate few were airlifted out of Saigon by the U.S. government. In response to this humanitarian crisis, the United States opened its doors to help resettle these Southeast Asian refugees, with Oregon

and Washington being two of the first states to offer new opportunities and homes. In the late 1970's, the Portland area was woefully ill equipped to provide resources for the influx of refugees. Local agencies such as Lutheran Family Service and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO) struggled to provide for the new arrivals.

 

In the Beginning

Because it was apparent that more assistance was desperately needed, in 1976 a group of Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian refugees formed a partnership, and in so doing founded a new community-based agency called the Indochinese Cultural and Service Center (lCSC).

Staffed by bilingual Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian refugees, ICSC worked closely with existing voluntary agencies -- Lutheran Family Services, Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees (SOAR, a program of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon) and Catholic Charities --

to assist newly arrived families become oriented to American society and culture and to find jobs locally.

In 1980, another group of Southeast Asians formed an additional community-based organization known as the Southeast Asian Refugee Federation (SEARF) to respond to the economic development and interpretation needs of the community. SEARF implemented an economic development project that provided business training and entrepreneurial loans in addition to the first interpretation services for refugees.

 

Joining Forces

By the mid-1980's, the United States began accepting an ever-increasing number of refugees in response to political repression, war and forced relocation among the refugee population. Accordingly, the ethnic composition of newly arrived refugees in Oregon began to alter and included Afghans, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Iranians, Romanians and other Eastern Europeans. In response to this new influx of refugees, the State of Oregon Refugee Program sponsored an inclusive retreat among all local refugee service providers to develop an integrated approach to assisting refugees to become self-sufficient through early employment.

A major result of the retreat was that the ICSC and SEARF merged to form the International Refugee Center of Oregon (lRCO). Under this new structure, IRCO became the sole service provider of employment services and job training for all newly arrived refugees in the Tri-County area, a role IRCO has retained since that time. IRCO retained SEARF's economic development and language interpretation/translation services, known as the International Language Bank, and broadened its ethnically based board of directors and staff to incorporate members of the newly arrived refugee populations from Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

 

Development by Design

In order to meet the community development and social adjustment needs of refugee and immigrant families, IRCO began to expand its service range in 1987 to include a variety of social services while at the same time retaining and strengthening existing services in training, employment, economic development and interpretation and translation.

Diversification of services has also meant that IRCO has had to diversify and expand existing funding sources. IRCO became a United Way member agency in 1989, and funding sources now include Multnomah County, the State of Oregon, the federal government, Worksystems, Inc., the City of Portland, and private foundations.

 

The Middle Years

From 1989, new youth and family service programs have been implemented, the most significant of which was the creation and founding in 1994 of the Asian Family Center in partnership with Lutheran Family Services,

Catholic Charities and the Portland Police Bureau. The first family center of its kind in Multnomah County, the Asian Family Center was specifically designed to meet the unique cultural and language needs of Asian Pacific Islander youth and families.

 

Timeline of Recent Expansions

  • 1995 Youth and family services targeted to meet the needs of the growing Russian and Ukrainian communities in Portland and Vancouver.
  • 1997 Inauguration and implementation of the Asian Parent Child Development Services
  • 1997 Implementation of Citizenship Services
  • 1998 Implementation of first refugee domestic violence services
  • 1999 Implementation of health education and outreach programs
  • 1999 Implementation of the Arts for New Immigrants Program
  • 2000 Implementation of refugee senior services and African community development services
  • 2001 Implementation of African youth services
  • 2001 Expansion of community development and coalition building assistance to Slavic community
  • 2002 Expansion of Parent Child Development services to Slavic families
  • 2002 Implementation of three Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) Community Schools
  • 2002 Implementation of three Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) Community Schools
  • 2003 Youth workforce services begin
  • 2003 Expansion of Children's Investment services to African families and implementation of Healthy Start Services
  • 2005 Multnomah County's mid-county provider of services to seniors including coordination of the Cherry Blossom Senior Center
  • 2006 Opening of the new IRCO Skills Center on NE 102nd Avenue focusing on career and vocational training
  • 2007 Opening of Africa House, a one-stop service center for African refugees
  • 2008 Foundation of the IRCO Career School to make employment training classes open to everyone, not just refugees
 

Moving Forward

After its successful capital campaign, in 2001 IRCO moved to its new location at 10301 NE Glisan Street in Portland and changed the description of the IRCO acronym to the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization. To better meet the needs of the refugee community as well as local employers who hire refugees, IRCO continues to redesign and review its employment and training services into a more efficient, sustainable and empowering "one-stop" model.

Values

  • We empower communities, families, and individuals so they can become self-sufficient and contributing members of society.
  • We create a diverse workforce to reflect the population we serve.
  • We provide equal opportunity to refugees and immigrants to help them succeed and improve their quality of life in the U.S.
  • We ensure that our services are culturally and linguistically inclusive of all ethnic groups.
  • We strive for long-term viability and sustainability.
  • We develop partnership with communities, government agencies, and other non-profit organizations to maximize our resources.

Principles

  • We empower communities, families, and individuals so they can become self-sufficient and contributing members of society.
  • We create a diverse workforce to reflect the population we serve.
  • We provide equal opportunity to refugees and immigrants to help them succeed and improve their quality of life in the U.S.
  • We ensure that our services are culturally and linguistically inclusive of all ethnic groups.
  • We strive for long-term viability and sustainability.
  • We develop partnership with communities, government agencies, and other non-profit organizations to maximize our resources.