Finding Hope, In Sugar & Olives

In 2010, Josh Kangere fled the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo. He spent  the next 7 years in Kenya.

It took nearly all that time to be vetted as a refugee for admittance to the United States. When he finally got clearance, it was almost too late.

Josh arrived in New York moments before President Trump suspended the American refugee resettlement program. Still, he underwent hours of intense questioning before being allowed in.

international-institute-of-connecticutWith the help of the International Institute of Connecticut, and local volunteers — including many from Westport — he now lives in a Bridgeport apartment, with 3 other refugees. He pays $350 a month.

One of Josh’s first priorities —  along with learning better English, and adapting to a very different country — was finding a job. In Congo, he’d worked as a hospital nurse. Much of his work involved documenting rape cases for legal prosecution.

He did not have the language skills or accreditation to work in the medical field here. (His main languages are Swahili and French; his English is workable.)

Josh had just started his job search when the Wall Street Journal published a story about him.

Jennifer saw it. A longtime Westporter, she’d been looking for cleaning and dish-washing help at Sugar & Olives, the restaurant/bar/cooking school/event space just over the Norwalk line.

She hired him immediately.

Josh Kangere, at work.

Josh Kangere, at work.

Josh takes the bus from Bridgeport. It’s a long, unfamiliar trek, to do work that is below his skills, but he is happy to be there.

“I cannot be a man without a job,” he says. “Any job. I am ready to work.”

Jennifer — who feeds Josh dinner in part so he can save money, in part to introduce him to American food — knows she may be criticized for hiring someone who had been in this country for just a few days, instead of a local resident.

“Do you know how hard it is to find someone who cares about a job like this, and is willing to work hard?” she asks. “This is like looking for a nanny. The fit has to be right. If you don’t have a fire under your feet, you don’t belong in a restaurant. I need someone who isn’t just in this for the paycheck.”

Jennifer has welcomed Josh into the Sugar & Olives family — and her own. Her son August Laska — a Staples grad — has studied Swahili at Middlebury College. They’ve chatted a bit by phone. (Josh is also fluent in French.)

Jennifer Balin and Chris Grimm. He has helped welcome Josh Kangere to Sugar & Olives as a fellow employee.

Jennifer Balin and Chris Grimm. He has helped welcome Josh Kangere to Sugar & Olives as a fellow employee.

Jennifer believes that “the beauty of America is giving everyone an equal chance at success — and that includes immigrants. We can only learn from each other. Keeping our borders open and safe is a positive thing.”

“I’m blessed,” says Josh, who hopes to return some day to the medical field.

He says Jennifer has “a love I’ve never seen. To help people she does not know, that is special.”

Everywhere in this area, he adds, “I meet good people. They want to help me. I’m so happy with everything.

“I hope with the grace of God, in the future my life will be good. God bless the American people.”

25 responses to “Finding Hope, In Sugar & Olives

  1. Go to hell, Donald Trump.

  2. Susan Iseman

    Bless your heart, Jennifer!

  3. Karl Taylor

    A great story to start my day. More power to people like Jennifer who really help people, not just showcase them.. p.s. Trump will get his reward, you can rest assured.

  4. Amy Unikewicz

    Sugar & Olives is already one of our favorites–and this story makes me love it even more.

  5. Robie Spector

    Josh, we wish you only the the best in your endeavors. Jennifer, Thank you!!

  6. Alberto Casellas

    That’s a beautiful story. I wish there were 100 more stories like that for the 100+ other refugees coming into Bridgeport!

  7. Bobbie Herman

    A heart-warming story. I wish Josh the best of success in his future endeavors. I know that with his motivation he will succeed; and thank you, Jennifer, for giving him the first opportunity.

  8. Michael Calise

    I do not hear Donald Trump condemning this man or any other person coming into this country legally. It is truly unfortunate that a story as beautiful as this has to be turned I into a political statement.

    • It is sad that this has political overtones and if anybody is responsible for that, it is Donald Trump.

      • The issue of immigration is strictly political. When your side wants to restrict immigration, it is good policy. When the other side wants to restrict immigration, it is bad policy.

        “All Americans, not only in the states most heavily affected but in every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country.

        The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public service they use impose burdens on our taxpayers.

        That’s why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens.

        In the budget I will present to you, we will try to do more to speed the deportation of illegal aliens who are arrested for crimes, to better identify illegal aliens in the workplace as recommended by the commission headed by former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.

        We are a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years, and we must do more to stop it.”

        • Tyler Smith

          Another statement by M. Petrino completely void of anything compassionate or positive. It’s a wonder how your get through the day.

    • Michael Calise is Right.
      – Susan Farley

  9. Welcome Josh!
    Your hard work is a wonderful example for others.
    Westport is lucky to have you and
    Sugar & Olives.

  10. Sugar & Olives is a place of Love & Light. The food is fantastic and very healthy. Jennifer & Chris are an inspiration to us all!

  11. Julie O'Grady

    What a wonderful story!

  12. Mary (Cookman) Schmerker Staples 1958

    Dan, thanks for starting my day off with so much sunshine and light. Welcome Josh. We are glad you are here. Thank you Sugar and Olives for being responsive to the need.

  13. Linda Whitney

    YAYY Westport!!
    You have returned to older times.
    Look up the 60s international exchanges and hosting people/groups from Africa sponsored by the UN.
    June and Tracy Sugarman were part of it. I have newspaper clippings if anyone is interested.
    Just saying Westport was there then.

    Thank you Dan.
    You are a community builder!! A herald in the streets!!!
    You make me love Westport more than I ever did living there!!!
    Sincerely, Linda

  14. Linda Whitney

    Congratulations Josh!!
    For your determination to achieve positive building in your life!!
    For your constant moving forward against ALL ODDS.
    We just needed the boot in the butt to get over our “silent majority” apathy and laziness. Now we are up and moving again and WILL NOT disgrace ourselves with him or the Republican temporary majority that is brown nosing him!!
    It WILL TAKE TIME TO DO IT RIGHT THIS TIME!!! To do it carefully to eradicate the insect trails that they established along the way while we weren’t paying attention.

    So, you, Josh can be one of our new standard bearers. One of our new eventual citizens moving it all forward. THANK YOU FOR THAT!!

    The main deal now has to be, since they would NOT VOTE AT ALL on any Obama pick for Justice on the Supreme Court, WE MUST REFUSE TO CONDUCT ANY VOTE ON THEIRS!!
    NO SUPREME COURT- as has been the case for years now, is BETTER THAN HAVEING A BAD ONE FOR DECADES!!!!

    As their own REAGAN told us to, JUST SAY NO!!!!!!!

  15. Joyce Joiner

    An even more enticing reason to FINALLY try Sugar and Olives… I already know Chris ia wizard cocktail maker!

  16. Jamie Walsh

    Can we for once set the political BS on the sidelines and congratulate Josh and thank Jennifer and Chris who are really nice people doing something really nice for obviously a nice man who seems like a hard working reliable person who had immigrated to this country!
    Wonderful and encouraging story maligned by a few who need to inject politics into every story.

  17. Congratulations Jennifer. I’m proud to know you. I look forward to meeting Josh! Jane Shemran

  18. typo — Sherman.

  19. Zulma Heidelberg

    Great story Jennifer
    You touched our harts
    Zulma and Ernie

  20. Andre Aflalo

    Very proud of you Jen!! Making the world a better place one life at a time!

  21. Jennifer Balin

    Josh is doing a great job. The biggest challenge is the timing of the bus route. A very generous 06880 reader has reached out to me to offer free english lessons for him as well. This is wonderful news as he will benefit tremendously from one on one tutoring. I feel that Westport is a giving and caring community and I am proud to be here! Thank you for all the lovely comments, we are just the landing place for Josh as I know he wants to pursue a nursing career here.