Marsh's Refugee Employment Earns Accolades
Bill Bumgarner of Marsh Furniture Co. opened his company's doors to more than 60 international refugees seeking employment and a new life in the United States.
By Andy Jenkins
The employees who make up Marsh Furniture Co.'s 700-person workforce come from all walks of life. Some walks, however, have been a little more traumatic than others. This is certainly so in the case of the 60 refugees Marsh employs, all of whom came to the United States with stories of personal tragedy and religious, political or racial persecution.
For more than nine years, Bill Bumgarner, Human Resources manager for Marsh Furniture, has been working to hire international refugees, and to help them build a new life in a new land. Just recently, Bumgarner and Marsh Furniture were recognized by the North Carolina Refugee Program as a 2005 Outstanding Refugee Employer and Volunteer. The award gives recognition to the company's long-term humanitarian efforts.
Marsh Furniture, a stock cabinet manufacturer located in High Point, NC, employs refugees from across the globe. Rarely bringing woodworking experience with them, refugees are typically hired for entry-level jobs, and often advance to higher-paying positions with increasing responsibility, Bumgarner says.
Bumgarner has personally established a strong relationship with World Relief, an organization providing refugee assistance, and its office in High Point. Along with World Relief, Bumgarner spread the stories and plights of the refugees resettling in North Carolina.
"These people have been persecuted and discriminated against everywhere that they have been," Bumgarner says. "The deal with us is that we made them feel welcome. They have settled in this area, they are valued workers and their co-workers have accepted them."
Bumgarner recently talked with Wood & Wood Products about his company's award-winning refugee employment program.
Wood & Wood Products: How did Marsh first begin employing refugees settling in the United States?
We had such a great experience with Eddie that it led me to contact World Relief, a worldwide agency that just happens to have a branch in High Point. I was impressed by Wayne Wingfield, who runs the local branch, and by Scott Kerr, who is an employment specialist with World Relief. It has been a win-win-win partnership.
World Relief provides great people, many of whom have had a very rough life up to the point that they came here. The new employee gets a good job and the chance to advance in responsibility and pay. World Relief is able to help many, many people this way. The group gets involved in situations where there is civil war or genocide occurring in the world, and they reach out to people who are in those situations.
I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea. The number of employees we have hired through World Relief is less than 8 percent of our total workforce. The majority of people working here and hired here are American. We have picked up good woodworkers from many of the unfortunate plant closings that are going on in our area. There have been more negative comments about a lot of the big names in furniture closing local plants and moving those operations overseas. This area has literally lost thousands of jobs to overseas relocation. We have been fortunate and blessed to be growing and working on full schedules.
Eddie now optimizes all of our sheet stock for our panel saws - a very important job. I think that Eddie is no different from any American worker; he loves his family and is willing to work hard so they all can have a better life. He still misses his native Bosnia, but sees that his real opportunity is currently in the United States, and he has made great strides since coming here. This is pretty good for a guy who came here 10 years ago from Bosnia with nothing.
To sit down with any of the people who have come through the World Relief program is fascinating. The stories that they tell are incredible. They all want to be free to live.
World Relief requires that the folks they help to immigrate to the United States be self-sufficient within six months of arriving here. Refugees are put through a health examination, given secure, temporary housing and provided with transportation. Refugees also attend mandatory English-as-a-second-language classes and classes on getting acclimated to this country.
I would encourage other companies to see if they have a World Relief branch nearby. It has been a great resource for Marsh Furniture Company.
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