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Kenyan family navigates through financial, housing and employment systems

Since 2006, Simon Nakhale and his family had been praying for and playing the lottery—the lottery that allows a number of foreigners to move to the United States—and in December, 2013, their prayers were answered.  Back in Nairobi, Kenya, Simon and his wife, Gladys, both had respectable jobs.  Simon was a trombone player in the military as well as a skilled carpenter; and Gladys taught math, social studies and religion.  While their dream of starting a new life in the U.S. was within reach, they had just a few months to pack everything and everyone up, including their four children, aged nine to nineteen, and move to a strange count-
ry where they knew just one other person who happened to live in Seattle. 
Upon arrival, and with very little money, the family of six struggled to find a place to live. They stayed wherever they could, moving in and out of homeless shelters and couch-surfing with their friend. Being on the move constantly made it hard for the couple to find work.  After about a month in the U.S. they learned about Neighborhood House through an acquaintance.

Finding an apartment for such a big family was challenging, but Simon and Gladys worked with their Housing Case Manager at Neighborhood House to visit different units until they found one that was a good fit.  Neighborhood House assisted them with move-in costs and also helped them enroll in TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) to help them get back on their feet and employed again.

“Having lived a military life for so long, our family was not used to living civilian life, so we found ourselves totally overwhelmed with so many choices and places to go in Seattle,” Simon said.

At the same time, Neighborhood House’s Employment Case Manager helped the couple update their resumes and draft cover letters.  Despite having 19 years of military service and being a talented musician and carpenter, Simon was unable to find a job in his field, but was able to secure a job as a security guard after just two months of job hunting.  Meanwhile, Gladys’s desire to continue teaching kept her yearning to find meaningful work.  Her Employment Case Manager encouraged her to seek volunteer positions that would allow her to gain experience in American classrooms and the 43-year-old began volunteering at KinderCare, a child day care facility.  After just a few weeks, Gladys was offered a paid position.

While Neighborhood House staff knew that Simon and Gladys needed to find jobs along with a permanent, safe place to live, staff also knew that in order for them to be truly stable, they needed to learn how to navigate U.S. systems. 

Simon and Gladys were connected to Neighborhood House’s Financial Empowerment Center where they met with a financial counselor and learned about financial management.  Neighborhood House also provided them with bus passes and advised them of websites they could tap to get additional resources they have needed. They learned how to call and set up appointments to look at apartments, how to fill out online job applications, and the importance of paying rent on time.

“Most importantly,” said Gladys, “Neighborhood House has stepped in and stood for us while we were trying to establish credit, and vouched for us and helped pay our rent.”

After just a few months, Simon and Gladys are both employed and have a place their family can call home.  They are now planning for the future and are working with a Neighborhood House Employment Case Manager to identify opportunities and training that will help them advance in their careers so that they can better provide for their children.

Simon told us he calls Neighborhood House his “rescue soldiers,” because the staff know just the right people to contact and are “efficient at making sure we’re right at home.”  This, despite the fact that Seattle is some 9,000 miles from Nairobi.


Simon and Gladys pictured with their sons and daughter, from left, Leo, 19; Bill, 16; Clive, 12; and Racheal, 9