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Press Release // Empowering Refugees

Walmart Awards LIRS Grant for New American Cities Program

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LIRS Staff

April 19, 2022

New American Cities: Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service receives Walmart grant to foster economic mobility among refugees and migrants

$1,000,000 award will support innovative program helping New Americans access opportunities to upskill and build pathways to economic and social inclusion

Contact: Tim Young | | 443-257-6310

Washington D.C.Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a leading national refugee resettlement nonprofit, announced that Walmart has awarded the organization a $1,000,000 grant to implement New American Cities – a program to enhance collaboration between local governments, workforce centers, employers and resettlement agencies in the pursuit of a better approach to economic self-sufficiency for refugee and migrant families.

“The challenges refugees face in rebuilding their lives in the United States are daunting. They are often required to accept low-wage, entry-level positions offering little opportunity for growth,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS). “Thanks to Walmart’s support, we can reimagine support systems to unlock the potential of new Americans and revitalize the cities they call home.”

The New American Cities program builds on the success of a previous LIRS pilot program funded by Walmart., through which 167 refugees found a significant impact on career advancement and wages and 81% of those placed in a job were placed in their chosen career pathway.

One participant in the pilot program was Julienne, a former refugee from Rwanda. When Julienne began the program, she had a job as a caregiver in a nursing home making about $8 per hour. After working with a career navigation specialist, she was able to secure a career as a Community Support Worker for pregnant women and new mothers, many of whom are former refugees themselves. Julienne now makes nearly $20 per hour and feels a sense of fulfillment in her work.

“I started working with Carla, the program manager, and she helped me with the application. I was hesitating because of the language and because my bachelor’s degree was from Africa, but she helped me prepare, and that’s how I got this job,” Julienne said. “I’m so thankful to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. Now, I love my job because I’m helping moms with babies.”

Career Navigators in the New American Cities program help refugee and migrant clients create individualized career plans, connect to skills training, conduct job readiness workshops, and achieve job placement. Pathway Builders, a second position within the program, work with employers to identify opportunities for career advancement and ensure that trainings offered to New Americans in the program directly target local employers’ highest priority skill gaps.

“We’re excited to support LIRS as it builds on its pilot program to provide career opportunities for hundreds more New Americans,” said Larry Jackson, Senior Director, Opportunity at Walmart. “Providing skills training and pathways to high-demand careers creates better opportunities for these individuals, and also strengthens the communities and businesses where they live and work.”

Walmart funds currently support program operations in four intentionally selected locations, representing a diverse set of New American Cities, to demonstrate the effectiveness and applicability of the model within a range of community profiles. These locations include Albuquerque, NM; Denver, CO; Fayetteville, AR; and Utica, NY.

“When resettlement agencies and cities help refugees reach their full potential, it benefits all of us,” said Lionel Jordan, Mayor of Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The New American Cities project is designed to be adaptable and scalable to each participating community based on its New American population and labor market. LIRS estimates that this two-year program will directly benefit about 600 New Americans and indirectly aid countless others in their families and communities. So far, LIRS has enrolled 91 total clients across the four Walmart-supported New American Cities locations.

“With Walmart’s support, we look forward to leveraging our more than 80 years of expertise to innovate a model of programming that meets the present need and sets a shining example for the future of welcome,” continued Vignarajah. “Through this partnership, we can change lives, strengthen local economies, shift the narratives around refugees, and create an inclusive framework that will assist thousands more to come.”

To learn more about the New American Cities program, contact LIRS Press Secretary Timothy Young at

To learn more about how you or your foundation can support New American Cities, contact LIRS Corporate and Foundation Relations Specialist Leah Johnson at:

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