Finding new hope, and a new home

Good teamwork: From left, John Scearcy (Teamsters); Sergey Alter (Safeway warehouse employee), Joe Drake (Puget Sound Training Center) and Jeff Smith (Safeway manager).   - Courtesy photo
Good teamwork: From left, John Scearcy (Teamsters); Sergey Alter (Safeway warehouse employee), Joe Drake (Puget Sound Training Center) and Jeff Smith (Safeway manager).
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Sergey Alter struggled to find a livable, meaningful job in his native land.

Life was often challenging in Ukraine back then, and it’s even more contentious now.

Neighboring Russia has threatened Ukraine’s independence, its sovereignty, its way of life.

Alter is concerned. Some family and relatives live in Ukraine but at a distance from its eastern border, where Russian troops continue to arrive.

Will Moscow’s expansion plans go beyond Crimea? Will other former Soviet states follow?

The U.S. and other Western nations are concerned that Russia may make additional military moves into eastern Ukraine. Is this a land grab?

“Right now there are hard times there, and yes, I’m glad I’m here,” the 38-year-old Alter said. “We pray about this to stop, that nobody dies … that we find a (solution).”

Alter continues to keep an eye on the crisis half a world away. It’s been difficult, but Alter has kept his focus on what lies ahead, here and now.

In his former country, Alter couldn’t secure a well-paying job  and a better way of life, so he, his wife, and their 8-month-old daughter left the Ukraine for the Pacific Northwest 13 years ago.

In that time, Alter was gradually improved his limited English, gained and advanced his job skills, secured a good-paying job in Auburn and found a nice home in Federal Way. He and his wife, Nataliya, are raising a growing family of four daughters.

He appreciates what he has here. He doesn’t plan to go back to the Ukraine anytime soon.

Alter found a larger family here, one of many friends and coworkers.

Right training

He took English classes. He also enrolled in a comprehensive program at the Puget Sound Training Center (PSTC), an organization whose mission is to provide training and employment services to individuals with limited skills, education and English comprehension, and who are unemployed or under-employed in the Puget Sound Region.

PSTC, a nonprofit organization, is funded by grants and private contracts vital to its existence.

“The program was important to me because when I came to the United States, I didn’t know nothing,” said Alter, who learned engineering at a technical school in the Ukraine but never fully applied it until he came to Auburn. “But day by day, I learned more and more.”

In time, Alter gained the necessary skills to operate a forklift before taking on added responsibilities.

Alter applied himself.

“He was the first student there and the last one to leave,” said Joe Drake, CEO and president of PSTC. “He’s a good worker, a very energetic young man who came to us. … He’s a great example of what can happen to him and others if they are determined.”

Convinced he was a good fit, Jeff Smith, Safeway Auburn Distribution Center produce and perishable warehouse manager, hired Alter in 2001.

Drake’s center continues to pave the way for others looking to train and secure good-paying work. His center has built a long-standing relationship with corporations and union-supported warehouses willing to accommodate those new faces with goals.

Workers like Alter.

“It’s a testament of having a good company, good representation to build good livable wage jobs, and then people who are determined to come through these programs and gain these skills and have a place to go,” said John Scearcy, executive assistant and president of Teamsters Local Union 117.

“Sergey was able to get a job. There were a lot of warehouse jobs he was qualified for,” Scearcy said. “He goes out of this way to welcome you. … He’s determined. He’s a great worker.”

With a little help. Sergey found his way to a new life.

“I really appreciate it because those guys built me,” he said. “I have a good job and a good home.”



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