Women from Mexico, Central America, Pakistan and Kenya escaping sex slavery and domestic violence. Survivors from war-torn Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea. Burmese, Bhutanese, Iranians and refugees from the former Soviet Union fleeing political or religious persecution.
Debra DeBondt and her staff of counselors, teachers, volunteers and mentors see them all.
The world's poor, homeless and abused come through Opening Doors Inc., one of the region's leading refugee resettlement agencies.
Last November, following the death of agency director David Blicker, his longtime colleague DeBondt took his place.
A valedictorian at Del Campo High School, DeBondt, 57, has seen the world from many vantage points. At 17 she lived with a family in Uganda under the brutal regime of Idi Amin. She served on active duty with the Air National Guard and founded the Women Veterans' Information Network in Oakland.
She attended UC at Berkeley and Santa Cruz and worked as a waitress, fruit-picker, graphic designer, desktop publisher and consultant for nonprofits. In 1997, she joined the Peace Corps in Kenya as a small-business development specialist before joining Opening Doors in 2001.
Its mission: to empower clients to become self-sufficient by helping them find shelter, education, job training and health care.
The Sacramento area's now home to more than 200,000 refugees and their children. What do they bring to the region?
All refugees bring with them a history filled with memories of the good, the bad and even the horrifying times in their lives. Those who come to us are survivors, and survivors don't stand still waiting for good things to happen; they work to make them happen.
Why is Sacramento a hub for human trafficking?
It's a major north-south, east-west intersection, and because we have so much agriculture it also draws labor trafficking.
A joint FBI and Sheriff's Department's Innocence Lost Task Force says Sacramento's one of the top 18 cities in the U.S. for trafficking. The FBI's indicated that about 50 underage victims of sex trafficking have been rescued in our community since 2010. Sacramento County ranks among the top five in the nation for domestic minor sex-trafficking cases.
How is Opening Doors fighting human trafficking?
Last year we helped teach 3,749 Sacramentans how to identify and report human trafficking. We helped 36 survivors find furnished apartments, receive mental health care and job and language training.
We've had 16 survivors apply for T visas for trafficking victims or U visas for survivors of domestic abuse. The government will consider issuing a visa if you cooperate with law enforcement.
Who are the trafficking victims?
The 36 survivors we helped last year were from Mexico, Kenya, El Salvador, Peru, Honduras, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Afghanistan.
Most were women 18-47, but we do have a few men and children.
Who are the new refugees?
We resettled 131 refugees in 2012: 48 Iraqis, 39 Burmese, 19 Eritreans, 10 each from Iran and Ukraine and five from Afghanistan. There are now close to 3,000 Iraqis in the area, not all of them refugees, according to Sarmed Ibrahim of the Mesopotamia Organization.
Most Eritreans are men 25-35 fleeing forced conscription. They are caught and put in prisons, many have serious medical conditions and arrive with nothing but a coat.
They're extremely unsophisticated when it comes to understanding this crazy life in the West. They have to be taught how to cross a busy street.
How do they survive here?
Those without dependent children get Refugee Cash Assistance of $300 a month plus $200 in food stamps. That runs out after eight months, so they must get jobs or start their own business through our microenterprise programs or turn to community members, and it's very tough.
Those with dependent children get welfare a family of three gets $608 cash aid a month plus food stamps.
What businesses have you helped refugees start?
Immigrants from Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Iraq and Iran have gone into lawn care, trucking, child care, cabinetmaking, and auto detailing and sales. One started his own telephone company.
How are they changing Sacramento?
Our children are going to school with children from all over the world, they're learning not everybody sees the world the way we see it and that wars can mean somebody has to give up their homeland and start over in a new place.
Our mentorship program matches American-born volunteers with newly arrived refugees, and 26 ESL tutors. Working with refugees has been a transformative experience for them.
For information, call (916) 492-2591 or visit http://openingdoorsinc.org.