The federal government expects 100,000 Ukrainian refugees to come to the United States due to the ongoing Russian invasion and it is likely that many will settle in Washington.
Joe Drake, president and CEO of Puget Sound Training Center (PSTC) said he hopes his organization can help incoming refugees the same way they helped a man named Sergey Alter back in 2001. The PSTC is a local non-profit organization with a mission to provide job training and employment services to immigrants and other under-served communities in the region.
In March 2001 Sergey Alter, along with his wife and their young daughter fled their home country of Ukraine and immigrated to Federal Way to begin a new life. Alter said they were fleeing poor economic conditions and religious persecution.
When he landed in Federal Way in March 2001, Alter didn’t speak any English and had no job lined up. Luckily, one of Alter’s neighbors suggested he visit the PSTC, to learn English and job skills.
Alter took his neighbor’s advice and visited PSTC, a decision that is still paying off to this day, Alter said.
In the 21 years since he first arrived, Alter has gained U.S. citizenship and secured a well-paying union job at Safeway which allowed him and his wife to buy a house and support their four daughters. Alter said he owes a lot of his success to the help PSTC gave him.
Drake said he remembered when Alter came to PSTC back in 2001.
“He had a lot of energy and a lot of skills he just couldn’t speak English that well,” Drake said.
Jeff Smith who was a manager at Safeway and a forklift driving instructor for PSTC in 2001 ended up offering to Alter a job at Safeway after a few months of training him.
“Jeff Smith spent a lot of hours teaching our students, and Sergey needed a job so Jeff gave Sergey a chance even though he couldn’t speak English that well,” Drake said. “Here he is 21 years later working down here.”
Alter said he feels lucky for the opportunities he’s been offered since arriving here and hopes to help incoming refugees.
“A lot of refugees will come here, I’m lucky I left before this [war] happened,” Alter said. “Right now I can help and a company like Puget Sound Training Center can help people – my brothers and sisters in Ukraine – to come here and get a chance like I had a chance 20 years ago.”
Seth Myers, Alter’s supervisor at the Safeway distribution center in Auburn said Alter’s story of success is an example of what this country is capable of when people work together and open their hearts.
“It’s a good feeling to know that you’re partnering with an organization [PSTC] that is creating a life and giving the opportunity to folks to raise four kids and support a comfortable lifestyle,” said Travis Parke, senior human resource manager at Safeway.
Drake encourages anyone who needs help learning skills or finding work to come to the PSTC which now offers training programs in forklift operation, warehouse skills, computer skills and first aid. You can learn more about what PSTC has to offer on its website.