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Refugees find jobs, opportunities at the Oneida Indian Nation

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VERONA, N.Y. - Amil Catovic knows firsthand about the great opportunities available with the Oneida Indian Nation of New York.

Originally from Bosnia, Catovic immigrated to the Utica area in 1996. As an employee specialist with the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees, Catovic established a relationship with the Oneidas and the human resources personnel at the nation's Turning Stone Resort and Casino.

On almost a weekly basis, Catovic helped place qualified refugees into swing- and grave-shift positions at various locations. He understood the opportunity available to employees, and had an intimate look at how the nation treated its employees. Soon it became his goal to work at Turning Stone and to further his education.

Today, Catovic is a human resources specialist for the OIN. His hard work earned him employee of the month honors in August 2007. Catovic is also a recent graduate of Empire State College, earning his associate degree in human resources management in 2008.

The OIN has a long history of providing for its neighbors. As the nation worked to improve the lives of its members through job opportunities, education and other tools, it has strived to bring the same improvements to the surrounding community.

''It's great to have such an organization in this area. Not just for the refugees, I believe, for all the people who live in this area,'' Catovic said. While some may have decided to move out of the area to find jobs, the stability of Turning Stone has others deciding to stay.

''[The] people are very nice, caring,'' he said. ''They [the OIN] care about employees. Excellent opportunities, benefits - this is simply a place to enjoy the work.''

Samir Sabic, formerly of Bosnia, echoed Catovic's sentiments. Sabic has been living in Utica for nine years and held jobs with other area employers. He's been with Turning Stone for six years and his hard work paid off as he was recently named employee of the month. His grandfather and his brother also work at Turning Stone.

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''I am helping with the people,'' Sabic said of his role as a casino porter. His attitude, he said, is: '''OK, no problem, I'll help you.'''

Fellow casino porter Hsernay Wah has been on the job for six months, but he already is familiar with the benefits offered. Having choices is something Wah, who is originally from Myanmar (Burma), isn't accustomed to.

''In my country ... there is no freedom,'' Wah said, adding his job has given him the chance to have a car, rent an apartment and provide for his family.

The Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees is, for many of these employees, their first contact with the Utica area. Dana Hubbard, manager of employment services for the center, said via e-mail that Turning Stone is an ''appealing place to work because it offers good benefits and job security,'' and employees in the second and third shifts can attend school.

''They like that they can move up or around within the organization,'' she wrote. ''For example, one of my employment specialists - Eh Hser - works part-time at the casino as a poker dealer, but he started there as a porter.''

That opportunity is what San Maw is focusing on. From Burma, Maw has been in Utica for three years. She came to the refugee center looking for a housekeeping job. They placed her at Turning Stone.

''I like working here,'' she said. ''We can choose a lot of jobs here, like housekeeping, like the dealers.''

Among her goals is to continue her education and to learn more English - goals that Maw wouldn't have been able to set without the positive work environment at the OIN.

The nation owns Four Directions Media, parent company of Indian Country Today.