Desire Ndagijimana’s American Dream realized through DSP Program with Onondaga Community College

Desire came to the United States with his family in 2016, after 20 years living in Uganda as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He felt that getting an education would help him achieve his American Dream, and allow him to help other refugees in Syracuse. However, he was forced to put his education plans on hold because of the unique challenges of adjusting to life in a new country.

He became incredibly active in the community, and was able to build a strong resume through self-employment as a translator and as a volunteer advocate for other refugees.

“I was able to advocate for myself,” he said. “But many refugees have a language barrier and they cannot advocate for themselves.”

From helping non-English speakers communicate with law enforcement, to helping people sign-up for social services, Desire created a strong network and became a well-known resource.

Desire credits his passion for working in the community to his parents. His father was a community health worker and his mother was active in their church and in women’s empowerment groups.

“I have that deep love for the community, I grew up watching my parents serve the community and they instilled those values in me, to always be there for my community.”

After years of self-employment, during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided he wanted to find a career where he could continue with public service. He was hired at AccessCNY as a COVID Outreach Worker, to work with members of the community who might encounter barriers like getting vaccinated or access to education about the virus.

When funding for his Outreach Worker position ended, Desire was hired as an AccessCNY Community Support Specialist, serving individuals who live with a mental health diagnosis. In fall of 2023, he achieved his dream of going back to school through AccessCNY’s Direct Support Professionals credentialling program with Onondaga Community College. The program helps AccessCNY staff further their education and build a career with the agency and is funded thanks to a grant from State Senator John Mannion.

“I am a community person, that’s why I wanted to go to the community college—it’s where I belonged.”

Desire expects to finish the program next fall, and hopes to continue his education after receiving his Associate’s Degree in Humanities and Social Sciences.

Desire plans to continue his career at AccessCNY, and is looking forward to having more opportunities to advance and serve the community.

Desire has served as a board member for St. Vincent de Paul Church, and is a board member of New American Forum and the World Refugee Day Planning Committee. He continues to be active in the Congolese community in Syracuse.

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