As executive director of Vive La Casa, Angela Jordan-Mosely has helped thousands of refugees seek asylum in this country and in Canada. With an annual operating budget of $750,000, Vive is the largest refugee shelter in the country, a 24-hour go-to facility on Wyoming Avenue that has helped 96,000 people fleeing 110 countries, including Haiti, Congo, Eritrea, Russia, Tibet and Sri Lanka.
Jordan-Mosely moved to Buffalo as a child and grew up on Fairfield Avenue. She attended School 63 on Minnesota Street, Bennett High School and Buffalo State College before earning her master’s degree in business from the University of Baltimore. At age 50, she worked as a regional organizer for New York State United Teachers before entering the nonprofit sector. Married to a minister for four years, she has two grown children.
People Talk: Tell me about Vive’s roots.
Angela Jordan-Mosely: It was primarily for Spanish-speaking people from South America who were trying to seek asylum in Canada. Over the years we’ve seen a lot of changes in Canadian law making it more difficult for refugees to seek asylum there.
PT: How did that affect Vive?
AM: We saw an increase in our numbers of people who did not qualify to go to Canada. Now we’re restructuring the organization because of all the long-termers. We’re re-creating Vive to be a more homelike environment so when the refugees transition out of Vive they are better prepared for life in this country. We provide parenting classes, nutrition classes and we teach English as a second language. We have 118 beds but we also created a family room and nursery so we can house about 130 to 140 people. At Vive, each person is given one in-house job to help maintain their home. Our kitchen manager is a refugee.
PT: Where do you see the next wave of refugees coming from?
AM: The only way to predict is by watching world news, where you see countries facing civil war like Syria. Most refugees don’t bring their entire family. On average, people travel 3,000 miles to come here. Once they arrive, our services are free.
PT: How do they acquire the resources to travel here?
AM: People don’t understand that many refugees are skilled doctors, lawyers, accountants, business owners. Those are the ones who can actually afford to get out. They are coming in skilled. Can they use that skill here? No, because they have to start over.
PT: What is their average age?
AM: I remember a child who was 7 years old who spoke no English who wore a sign saying “Get me to Vive” because she wanted to be reunited with her mom in Canada. A 90-year-old woman came in terminally ill who wanted to go to Canada because she wanted to die with her family. Most of the males who come through are around 35. And now we’re seeing more of the 20-year-olds who are leaving and speaking out about the injustice in their countries. About 20 percent of our population are the college students who had to get out because their lives were threatened.
PT: What’s a bad day at Vive?
AM: When immigration comes in and tells us a person needs to be deported, and we have to tell them that news. That’s a bad day.
PT: What is your forte?
AM: My ability to embrace different cultures. The refugees look at me as the mother of Vive, down to the 70- and 80-year-olds. They tell me that I – a person of color and an educated woman – stand for what they are trying to be. In many of the countries, women do not have any rights. They’re not even educated. Nor are they respected by their husbands. That’s what keeps me grounded. We change lives here every day.
PT: Has this job changed you?
AM: It has helped me to understand ministry more. I’m grounded in my faith, but I think that some of us – unless we experience these challenges and trials – our faith never gets tested. Here, my faith is tested a lot. Sometimes I have to understand why a husband treats his wife a certain way – because they come from a different country. Or a man who comes in my office and tells me he will not listen to me because I am a woman.
PT: How do you meet the spiritual needs of such a diverse population?
AM: That was challenging because we have so many religious beliefs here. We have a prayer room that acts as a mosque, a church. We started that four years ago.
PT: Are you deeply spiritual?
AM: I am rooted. My husband is a minister at the church. This is my second marriage. I’ve only been remarried for four years. They tell me we’re still newlyweds. We’re both so busy, my husband said he never sees me. I married a man who did not have any children at the age of 46, so his passion was always trying to help mentor children as well. You can see why God brought us together.
PT: What motivated your interest in child mentoring?
AM: One of my sons had ADHD, and I found the school system was not prepared. It was cutting teachers and nurses, and I wondered what I could do to help my son who was having a difficult time getting through school. I took a leap of faith and started Buffalo Niagara Mentorship, but I found myself with my faith wanting to help more. So I started Above Rubies. The name was taken from scripture in Proverbs 31:10 about a virtuous woman whose value is far above rubies. The program is administered through the community development side of our church, Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ. We work with children age 5 through college.