Briefing Room

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When work isn’t work

April 5, 2008 | Alumni

The pictures in Angie Plummer’s office tell her story best.

If Plummer ’92 didn’t truly love her job – the walls of her modest office probably wouldn’t be the same.  But inside her Columbus workplace, the pictures describe what Plummer says makes her most passionate about her work.

The snapshots show Plummer – with smiles so large and genuine it’s difficult to believe she’s working – amongst the immigrants and refugees she has helped reconnect with their families from around the world.

Plummer, who is executive director of Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS), and her colleagues help people obtain legal status in the United States and reunite them with their loved ones.

“I’ve learned that I am so fortunate to be able to do a job everyday that I feel so passionately about,” she said.  “Work can be something truly rewarding and something that we value.  I have that here.”

Success stories

Plummer turned to a bulletin board of photos when trying to recall stories that have affected her.  The dozen or so photos – posted near a wall size map of the world – represent only a sliver of the cases that have made her proud and thankful.  There are almost too many of those to count.

But Plummer can easily rattle off her “success stories” from the past almost 10 years she has spent with the agency, where she started as a volunteer.

There’s the 16-year-old Somali girl living as a refugee in Kenya who was taken from her family and brought to the United States by her neighbors.  The neighbors left the girl as soon as they arrived in Minneapolis, but not without taking her immigration documents.

The girl made her way to Columbus, where she had an aunt, and Plummer successfully helped her apply for and receive asylum.  The juvenile court magistrate who was involved in granting custody of the girl to her aunt ordered counseling for the girl.

“She and her aunt were talking frantically after they heard this,” Plummer said.  “They didn’t understand why she needed counseling.  They said, ‘she is one of the lucky ones.’”

And then there is the Ethiopian grandmother who was raising her 9-year-old grandson. Initially, the grandmother was permitted to come to the U.S. as a refugee, but her grandson was not.  After several years and several denials, Plummer was finally able to get the two reunited in Columbus.

And there are hundreds of similar stories.  In fiscal year 2007, CRIS resettled 850 people in central Ohio.  In 2006, the nonprofit agency successfully helped 1,500 resettle, to start new lives in the United States.

The perfect fit

Plummer graduated from the University of Dayton with a degree in international studies, and she admittedly “didn’t really know what to do with it.”  She opted for law school, and, after graduation, started doing family law work at a Columbus law firm.

She quickly learned that the field wasn’t for her.

“It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me that it didn’t work out,” she said.

So she took a job with the State of Ohio in its Department of Administrative Services, where she worked in policy development.

“And then one day I saw a newspaper article about a lawyer who was volunteering for CRIS, a local refugee/immigrant service provider,” said Plummer, who agreed to help the group.

She said the scene when she arrived at the then home of the agency was unforgettable.

“We were in the garage of the Lao Temple, and there were people literally crawling all over each other,” she said.  “There were people representing something like seven nationalities.”

She was instantly intrigued and began to volunteer on a regular basis. Then, she started working part-time – splitting her time between the agency and her job with the state.  Meanwhile, the agency – both in the number of employees and clients served – was growing exponentially.

In 2003, she became the full-time executive director of CRIS.  She now spends about a quarter of  her time doing immigration legal services, another quarter managing the refugee resettlement program, and the other half managing the agency as a whole.

Plummer’s agency helps people from around the world.  The group served people from 116 countries in 2007.  CRIS programs provide assistance to refugees and immigrants with finding employment, learning English, immigration issues, interpretation/translation, and other human services that provide refugees and immigrants equal access to resources of the mainstream.  The agency staffs more than 80 people and includes workers fluent in 25 languages.

But not all the stories end happily, Plummer said.  For instance, oftentimes grandparents cannot move to the United States and send for their grandchildren.  “There just isn’t a legal provision that allows them to do so,” she said.  Plummer said she oftentimes has to break the news to members of those families, who frequently have been told something different before they left those children behind.

‘The extra mile’

Plummer is married to John Marshall ’83, a Columbus attorney, and the couple have two children, ages 6 and 4.  Plummer’s 4-year-old daughter, a native of Ethiopia, was adopted into the family.

Plummer said that her job has made her appreciate other cultures more than she ever has before, and she said she can already see that appreciation rubbing off on her children.

“My staff is very passionate about what they are doing here,” she said.  “They truly are willing to go the extra mile for you.”

Plummer explained how people oftentimes get so caught up in efficiency that taking a step back and realizing what’s most important is difficult.

“That doesn’t really happen here,” she said.  “It’s not uncommon for clients to call up, not say who they are, and immediately start asking how I am and how my children are.  (My clients) remind me what is truly important in life.”