Tag Archive for: immigration

SAMU Staff goes the extra mile

“The SAMU First Response staff has been working around the clock to serve the increasing needs and arrivals of migrants from the border. This month, they received 26 buses from Texas and Arizona.”

The month of September this year in Washington, D.C. has been one of the busiest and most hectic months of 2023. The SAMU First Response staff has been working around the clock to serve the increasing needs and arrival of migrants from the border. This month, we received a total of 26 buses from Texas and Arizona, which thus far has been the most buses that we have received this year!

In order to successfully welcome and process each individual and family, the intake team worked long and hard hours receiving buses at any hour of the day and night. There were many days where the intake team worked 22-hours straight to welcome buses that arrived at 3:00am, 11:00am, and 10:00pm. These were the days when our team was most tired and worn-out, but they continued to show their commitment to helping others. Members of the entire staff banded together coming from the data and reporting team, management, and service/logistics team to help and assist their team members, by taking shifts to welcome buses so that they could give the intake team a day to be able to rest and return rejuvenated.  This is truly the definition of what teamwork looks like and how each staff member embodies the mission of SAMU to save lives.

During the month of September, our staff worked diligently to be available 24/7 for the increased arrival of buses and walk-ins. This was truly a time where the passion, heart, and dedication shone brightly from each team member of SAMU. We successfully welcomed 1,112 individuals to our welcome center and have supported 298 families during their migration journey (63.81% arrived from Texas, 15.24% arrived from Arizona, and 20.94% arrived as a walk-in directly referred to our reception center). We were able to offer shelter to 379 migrants at our dedicated respite centers located in Montgomery County in Maryland and Washington, D.C. Furthermore, we were able to purchase tickets for 497 individuals to travel onward to their final destinations where friends and families awaited their arrivals.

Although this month was a very busy and hard month for our staff, it truly showed how the staff members that work at each of the reception centers truly support each other and do everything they physically can to support those that need an extra hand when entering this country. By the end of September, we have welcomed 11,642 individuals since the start of our operations on June 21, 2022. We are lucky that our staff is willing and able to go the extra mile to serve each migrant that passes through our door, whether that be a birthday celebration for a child, providing a peaceful night of rest to be able to continue on in their journey, or our staff working 22 hours straight in a day away from their homes and families, all in the name of being able to help those that arrive to our respite center doors. The spirit of SAMU truly lives in each and every one of our staff members.

As the year ends and we are preparing for more arrivals from the border and walk-ins from other cities, we are also looking forward to providing moments of celebration for our guests and staff members. We are currently working on plans to celebrate Halloween, Day of the Dead, Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday, Christmas, New Years Eve, and other special traditions that are celebrated by each of the countries and cultures that are represented in the migrants that pass through our doors. We at SAMU First Response continue to strive to be a part of and help with the spark of hope and celebration that a new life in the United States brings.

A Culture of Recognition

In January 2023, 3.9 million employees resigned from their jobs in the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, that’s actually a decrease in employee loss over the previous 14 months. Each month since November of 2021, the U.S. job market has suffered the loss of more than 4 million voluntary separations initiated by employees. It’s being called the “Great Resignation”. What can companies, including SAMU, do to increase retention?

The answer is recognition.

“I’m a big advocate of using recognition on a daily basis,” Dr. Bob Nelson, author of 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees, told Business Insider in March of 2015. Nelson co-founded Employee Appreciation Day with his publisher nearly three decades ago. 

“By no means is Employee Appreciation Day meant to be this one day to thank people or this one day to bring in doughnuts,” he explained. “But I did want to have one day where we could call attention to the topic and have conversations about its importance.” 

In Gallup’s “State of the Global Workplace: 2022” report, the Washington, D.C.-based management consulting company revealed that only a third of workers feel engaged, with 19% reporting they are miserable at work. These figures come in the aftermath of a massive shift during Covid toward more work-life balance, so what is driving this dissatisfaction?

Employees reported their chief complaint to be “unfair treatment at work.” Gallup’s report includes several factors that contribute to that takeaway, including lack of community and contribution acknowledgment. In fact, a survey by PlanBeyond, a Seattle-based market research company, found that feeling undervalued significantly eclipsed compensation as the top motivational factor for quitting across age and gender demographics. Gallup reported other factors contributing to employee job dissatisfaction as unmanageable workloads, lack of clarity in communication and support from managers, and overall burnout. 

“A lot of employees today — and particularly the younger generation — expect to be recognized on a daily basis,” Dr. Nelson told Business Insider. “It’s not because they want to be pumped up or because they have a frail ego, it’s because they’re smart enough to realize that in the fast-moving and dynamic times we’re in today, you have to have a steady stream of feedback.”

Unfortunately, disengaged employees impact the bottom line whether they leave their job or not. Employees who are not engaged in the workplace cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity. Turnover is also expensive. In a 2017 retention report published by the Work Institute, the cost of turnover was estimated to be nearly a third of a worker’s annual salary. Given this, addressing job satisfaction and retention must be of critical importance to employers.

Great Place to Work bills itself as, “the global authority on workplace culture.” In a blog post from early March, they defined several areas where employers could recognize their workforce, including achievements, exhibiting desired behaviors, going above and beyond expectations, and employee milestones, such as length of service. The article highlighted O.C. Tanner, a global leader in software and service that is highly rated by Great Place to Work, for conducting an internal survey that asked employees a simple question: “What is the most important thing that your manager or company currently does that would cause you to produce great work?” The answers were surprising. Three percent wanted a promotion. Seven percent a raise. But a whopping 37% said they were motivated by recognition. 

The post gave the following tips on employee recognition when attempting to create a culture of recognition in the workplace. 

  1. Be specific, be relevant. Tie recognition to a specific accomplishment or business objective. Relating the recognition to the behavior encourages more of the same, something Dr. Nelson mentioned in the Business Insider article: “What you reinforce, you will get more of. It is absolutely guaranteed.”
  2. Be timely. Recognition needs to be prompt to be seen as authentic.
  3. Recognition comes in many shapes and sizes. Recognition doesn’t have to be financial or extravagant. It can be a gift card for coffee at a local coffee shop, company swag, or even just a certificate of appreciation. 
  4. Little things go a long way. Managers don’t need a special occasion or act of service to thank their employees. Peer appreciation is also highly motivational. 
  5. Connect to the bigger picture. Recognition helps employees see how their contribution strengthens their team and the larger organization. Great Place to Work stresses the importance of this particularly in times of growth or change, which reinstills a sense of safety and reminds employees of their importance to the mission.

Because SAMU First Response cares deeply about making sure our team understands how valued they are, we wanted to highlight the contributions of several Service Specialists from our Respite Team in this month’s article. We hope you enjoy getting to know some of our staff and why they love working with SAMU.



“My main job here is [providing] service to people,” Ivone said, pointing to tasks such as dispensing medicine, clothing, shoes, information and food. She shares that she believes if she

does things with love, that’s what she is going to get in return. Recognition plays a role in her job satisfaction, and she gets a lot from SAMU’s guests, who often give her blessings. “My favorite part of my job is when people smile and say thank you.”

She remembers getting to work with the children staying at the center, a part of the job she really enjoyed. They loved the positive reinforcement as well. She would see parents telling their kids to get up if they were having a temper tantrum on the floor. Many had experienced incredible trauma and, to Ivone, this was part of their processing those experiences. “I like when they are allowed to just feel,” she said. 

There were three guests she remembers in particular. Little girls from Russia in a center where most, including Ivone, spoke mostly Spanish. She taught all of the kids a song in Spanish and these girls were able to learn it as well. “That was the part where I had an important connection,” she said. “I was able to reach them, even though they spoke another language.”

“A lot of people say, ‘You remind me of my mom’,” Ivone explained. “They saw me like a mom. That means that I am doing a good job. It makes me proud of myself … of what my parents taught me to do in my life.”



“My favorite part of my job is helping people,” Anyi said, who is involved with arranging travel for arriving migrants. She says it has been surprising how open people have been in sharing their stories with her. 

She shared being particularly impacted by the mothers who are separated from their husband’s at the border. For some, their story takes a tragic turn as they learn the family’s main breadwinner has been deported. They face being in a strange country alone, homeless, with two, three or five kids to feed. But there are silver linings, like one mom from Columbia. “We were able to connect them to a program locally that provided support to help her with housing.”

Anyi is the mother of a beautiful, bubbly, 15-month-old miracle child. After being told she would never be able to have a child, her son Angel came into her life and changed everything. She says she would do anything for him, which is why Anyi understands how parents make the agonizing decision to take this journey, despite the dangers. Angel has made her realize how precious our children are, and how desperate those who are coming must be to put that child in harm’s way.

She remembers a mom with five kids, her youngest the same age as Angel. The family faced a critical point after making their way through the Darién Gap with no food or water left. The baby became unresponsive, yet, somehow, they were able to get him to a hospital. The doctor told them if they had not arrived when they did that the child would have died.

“My baby is my life, my everything;” Anyi said. “I could not do what she did. They are taking a huge risk to have a better life. When I speak with the [guest] and we find an organization that can help them … just seeing their face, their happiness when they are going to a good place, a safe place that fills my heart.” 



Nathalie is a Service Specialist at the Respite Center. The team has found she has a special gift for event planning, which was most recently demonstrated with a Zumba class and live serenade in honor of Día de la Mujer. She also works with children staying at the facility. Natalie remembers a young girl who came to her to ask for special cream for her hair. That struck a chord.

“When I arrived here in the United States, I tried to find the best products for me and nobody advised me,” She said, remembering going to a local pharmacy and the struggle of trying to find what she needed without being able to speak English very well. She was grateful to be able to help this guest with getting the right products for her hair. 

“For me, this job is something personal,” Nathalie said. “I want to be here because I know how difficult it is to arrive here.” But that’s not the only reason she has been able to connect on a deep level with guests. 

“I am a domestic violence survivor. My ex-husband abandoned me when we arrived. He took my daughter away from me, too.” Nathalie fought hard to get her daughter back, and has turned her experience into a resource at SAMU when encountering guests in similar situations. She shares her personal story with them when they express worry about next steps. 

“I started from the beginning here,” Nathalie tells them. “No food, no friends. From my experience, I swear everything is going to be different.” Sometimes the guests listen and lean in to get support. Other times, they are not ready to leave their partner.

“When women ask for help here, I feel the pressure to try to help — even take them home. I feel obligated to help them,” She said. But Nathalie also realizes that isn’t a possibility, that the best thing she can do to help is connect them with resources. Tell them how the system works here in the United States. Being able to do even that much is a win in her book.

“One of my goals was to have a job like this,” Nathalie said. “This job here makes me happy. It’s the first time I wake up in my life and I am happy to go to work. I feel like I am going to change somebody’s life.” 

Although the stories of only three team members were featured here, the management team would like to tell each SAMU employee how much their work is valued. You are an incredible asset to our mission and your dedication is what makes this organization strong. YOU are SAMU. 

Please follow SAMU First Response on social media to meet more of our employees and learn about their SAMU story.

The Power of Trust

Trust is foundational to what non-profit organizations do. It matters in every aspect of operations, beginning with the interpersonal relationships required when building teams. Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last, writes, “A team is not a group of people who work together. It is a group of people who trust each other.” 

Employees need to trust their leadership to forward the mission and prevent turnover. Similarly, when volunteers trust an organization, they will go out of their way to support their work. Trust also matters when seeking financial support. Every dollar or in-kind donation that is given to an organization is born of trust. In fact, in a publication titled, The Future of Trust, the international professional services company Deloitte reported that “trustworthy companies outperform non-trustworthy companies by 2.5 times.” 

But there is perhaps no place more critical for trust to exist than in the creation of strategic partnerships. 

SAMU has a long history of forging such relationships, including with fellow NGO, Project HOPE. Harley Jones is Project HOPE’s Senior Manager of Domestic Operations. He oversees the organization’s programming in the United States. 

“Trust is essential in our work because we are not selling products. We are organizations that are made up of humanitarians and good people, focused on alleviating human suffering at the worst times of their lives,” Jones said.

With two decades of experience in this field, Jones has seen partnerships that work, and others that fail. “There are a number of organizations that don’t like collaborating because it takes attention away [from them],” He said. But that’s just one of several factors that can lead to failure. Sometimes, Jones explained, the values and mission of the partners are just too different. Motives get questioned, and the lack of trust becomes an obstacle. “At the end of the day,” Jones said, “Mission is important,” explaining that – when values and mission align – it creates the perfect environment for a partnership to flourish. 

“You build that trust internally,” He said. “You know when you face a barrier, that other organization is often going to view it in the same way you do. That creates the opportunity to work together in other areas because you can go into it with that understanding without having to work around it. It’s that place where your values converge with your approach, your compassion and your focus on mission.”  

The Start Of A Beautiful Friendship

A mutual partner introduced SAMU to Project HOPE in 2017. The similarities between the organizations were evident immediately. “As two globally-based NGOs,” Harley Jones said, “Our focus has been on various places around the world, supporting vulnerable populations fleeing armed conflict or natural disaster.” 

SAMU and Project HOPE began looking for ways they might partner. It didn’t take long to identify an opportunity. In November of 2018, Juan González de Escalada Álvarez, Grupo SAMU’s Director of Operations Grupo Samu’s and Director of SAMU School, headed to Venezuela on what would become the first of many joint operations.

“I was asked to enter Venezuela with them to ascertain the Venezuelan Migrant Crisis,” He said. “We spent several days around Cúcuta in Colombia and the Venezuelan region of El Táchira.” The teams were exploring whether SAMU could provide Health Emergencies Training to local humanitarian organizations managing a large influx of displaced Venezuelans. 

That venture led to a significant partnership toward the end of 2020 in Honduras. The country was reeling from the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic when Tropical Storm Eta hit, followed closely by Hurricane Iota. The Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) activated Emergency Medical Teams to assist with the resulting crisis. SAMU joined that mission, with Project Hope partnering to provide the financial support that allowed SAMU’s team to meet the needs of nearly 1,200 patients. 

Most recently, Project HOPE supported SAMU in Moldova and Romania, where our teams on the ground provided support to refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. During this joint mission, the teams were able to provide three and a half months of care for migrants affected by the crisis. Project HOPE provided 60 percent of the funding necessary for SAMU to perform more than 2000 medical consultations.  

Jones explained that the relationship between Project Hope and SAMU was a natural fit because of how well the strengths of the organizations align. Jean Oelwang, president and founding CEO of Virgin Unite, describes in her book, Partnering, how that alignment cultivates something she calls “Deep Connections.”

“Deep Connections are relationships of purpose that make us who we are,” She writes. “They are the enduring ‘got your back’ friendships found in all aspects of our lives. These relationships help us become our best selves and multiply the impact we make in the world.”

On Mission Every Day

Project HOPE’s mission is simple, but critically important: Empower frontline health care workers. Prior to the pandemic, the organization’s main focus had been geared toward vulnerable populations in the developing world. Covid travel restrictions rendered that work nearly impossible, requiring the organization to pivot toward domestic assistance. 

Jones said that, during this time, the NGO leaned heavily on their robust emergency response capability to help provide surge staffing to support frontline workers in some of the hardest hit areas, including Chicago/Cook County, Harris County in Texas and within the Navajo Nation. A strong supply chain allowed the organization to provide more than 18 million pieces of PPE across 15 countries in 2021 alone.    “We know enough about the work that we do to know that it has to be needs-based and it has to be fast,” Jones said. Other organizations are not that nimble, he explained, which is why Project HOPE was so drawn to partnering with SAMU. The migrant crisis in Washington, D.C., is a prime example. Although SAMU was in the United States hoping to open the organization’s first unaccompanied minor shelter on American soil, the teams on the ground were able to change gears quickly to tackle a new mission: Meeting the needs of thousands of migrants being bussed to the Nation’s capitol from the border of Mexico.

Meeting Crisis Head-On … Together

As SAMU First Response transitioned into a leadership role in addressing Washington, D.C.’s unfolding migrant crisis – which Mayor, Muriel Bowser, later would declare a state of emergency – one of the first calls made was to Project HOPE. Jones remembers that call, and the very direct and clear asks that were made.

“We need some capacity-building and support around logistics,” Jones remembers the SAMU team saying, which he shares is Project HOPE’s specialty – particularly when it comes to government funding. The organization runs $10 Million in programming with the federal government and has extensive experience with the reporting and documentation necessary when managing federal dollars.

SAMU First Response’s Respite Manager, Jeisson Cartagena, adds that the procurement process also presented a challenge for the growing team. “I didn’t have that much information on how to navigate government funding,” He said. “Project HOPE had that experience and was able to send someone to work with our team to help us better understand the process.” 

Jones recalls SAMU’s second ask: “We need some training around the stress, mental health and resiliency of our staff. We need tools that can help them take care of themselves and the people they are serving.” Project HOPE responded, providing classes on a variety of topics, from psychological first aid and gender-based violence, to sexual exploitation and de-escalation.

Cartagena remembers the resiliency training provided by Project HOPE as being extremely impactful for the staff. Migrants staying in SAMU’s respite center had been sharing stories of the violence, including sexual, experienced during their journey. 

“It created so much pressure for the staff,” He said. “Just hearing the stories… they did not know how to answer. We were hearing this information and keeping it to ourselves. That was the worst part of this work. It was really, really hard for our team.”

The resiliency workshop coupled with the psychological first aid training helped the SAMU team begin to understand the psychological process guests in their were experiencing. Cartagena said it shed light on why they might act a certain way and how to address issues as they arose. 

“That was important,” He explains, “Because it gave us the tools for how to handle this process. It is something we cannot change, but we can listen and put ourselves in their shoes. Just listening is the best way that we can help them. Now we are able to better care for our guests, and separate what is happening at work from our home lives.”

The final ask was perhaps the most critical, as buses previously bound for Union Station – a transportation hub in the heart of the city – began dropping migrants near the Naval Observatory and private residence of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. The immediate surrounding area is largely unpopulated and migrants dropped without notice struggled to know where to go for assistance upon arrival. Jones remembers SAMU’s request around this challenge distinctly: “We need a large vehicle that can move people.”

In less time than than anyone would believe, the keys to a 14-passenger van were being handed to Cartagena. “Project HOPE was really focused on getting us the best possible option,” He said, adding that, suddenly, the weight of trying to arrange reliable transportation was lifted. Picking people up from wherever they were dropped off was no longer an issue, but that gift provided so much more. 

We can now take people to medical appointments. We can take them to Baltimore to change their address with ICE,” Cartagena said. “I was feeling like it was helping me to do my job better every day. I was feeling like it was for me, even though it was for SAMU. [Project HOPE] told me something like, ‘I hope this helps to make your job easier.’ And definitely it did.”

Jones says that partnering in this space has only increased the organization’s interest in further supporting SAMU’s work. As the trust between the NGOs grows, so does the value of the partnership between SAMU and Project HOPE. 

“It has made it even stronger,” Jones said. “Our relationship and trust were built on years of working together around the world. We have [now] shown that we can continue to work together in the United States. As SAMU looks to increase and expand their work here, Project HOPE stands ready, willing and able to support that work in any way we can.

Close to 600 children under the protection of SAMU

The massive arrival of immigrants in small boats to the Andalusian coast in recent years has put all the social entities involved in this phenomenon on alert, among them the SAMU Foundation, which currently hosts about 560 minors who have arrived clandestinely to Spain without being accompanied by an adult. These are distributed among the 16 different centers available to the organization. On the one hand, the so-called Temporary Emergency Accommodation Units or Immediate Care centers, and, on the other, the Basic Residential Care centers. Most of them come from Morocco, although there are also children from Guinea, Senegal, Mali and Ivory Coast.

Irregular immigration has more than doubled so far this year compared to the figures of 2017, which were alarming then. Spain is already the main access route to Europe, surpassing Italy. Up to the 15th of July, the irregular immigrants who had entered this year in Spain, mostly by sea and on the coast of Andalusia, already numbered 15,686, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior —the European agency Frontex raises this to 18,016 for the same period—, 114% more than in 2017, when the figure had already increased by 170%.

Many of these immigrants are unaccompanied foreign minors. In the first seven months of 2018, some 3,200 unaccompanied foreign minors came to Andalusia through its shores, a thousand of them in July alone, compared to 2,855 in all of last year, according to data from the Andalusian Government.

This year, the SAMU Foundation, by order of the Board, has opened, as of yet, 11 new resources aimed at this group. Two of them are Basic Residential Care centers, and the rest are Immediate Care centers.

The last two emergency temporary shelter resources were opened in August in Guillena (Seville) and Jimena (Cádiz). In addition to these, there are two more in the province of Cádiz open this year and two more in 2017, two in the province of Almeria, and three in that of Granada, all of them active from this year.

In terms of Basic Residential Care resources, which allow minors to remain at the center until children reach legal adulthood, SAMU has three resources in Seville, Granada and Cadiz. The last of them was set up in El Bosque, in the province of Cádiz, at the end of May. It was born from a need of the General Direction of Childhood and Families of the Board to address the needs of minors who arrived in Spain during the year 2017 and were still being cared for in Immediate Care centers. There are 13 people who work here, among them psychologists, social workers, educators, teachers, and edudational technical assistants.

“The key objective of the Basic Residential Care centers is to insert these children into society. Our role is one of social and professional guidance that starts with the task of documenting the minors, placing them in educational centers or in different courses and working with them towards their future emancipation,” indicates Nicolas Torres, director of SAMU minors.

All these resources add up to two more instruments in Motril (Granada), a Center of Social/ Professional Orientation, opened in 2013, and a floor for children who have been under the guardianship of SAMU and who have already reached legal age.

Tag Archive for: immigration