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Congresswoman Betty McCollum

Representing the 4th District of Minnesota

McCollum Statement Expressing Gratitude for the International Institute of Minnesota

March 8, 2017
Statements For the Record

Mr. Speaker, today is International Women's Day and I am proud to be a strong advocate for equity, opportunity, and full rights for women and girls both in the United States and around the world. Over my [[Page E294]] tenure in Congress, I have fought to improve women's healthcare, advance pay equity, and make sure girls have access to every educational opportunity that is available to boys.

With the Trump administration now in the White House, I am very concerned that the significant progress made to improve women's lives are under threat of being diminished, rolled back or extinguished. I remain fully committed to standing up, speaking out and championing the rights of women and girls.

This past weekend I attended an event hosted by the International Institute of Minnesota (IIM) to celebrate International Women's Day. It was a tremendous honor to receive IIM's 2017 Olga Zoltai Award for Service to New Americans. Special thanks to Jane Graupman, IIM's amazing executive director, and Kitty Gogins, IIM's board chair and daughter of Olga Zoltai. IIM's staff works hard doing the important work of resettling refugees. Their work builds a strong foundation for new American families that helps them achieve success and self- sufficiency.

Unfortunately, the anti-immigrant executive orders issued by the Trump administration, especially the refugee ban, can only be called a betrayal of our values as Americans and the core beliefs that make this a great country.

As I said in my remarks upon receiving this special award, ``There is amazing strength and perseverance in each and every refugee story. The millions of women, men and children who have found their way to America have made this country better. Their courage must now be our courage as we resist isolationism, bigotry, and the scapegoating of good people seeking freedom and a new life in America.''

I include in the Record my full remarks and a brief biography of Olga Zoltai, who was truly an amazing woman.

Throughout my career in Congress I have made the rights of women and girls a priority.

We want a more peaceful, prosperous world, a world where children are healthy and families are strong, then let us invest in women and girls.

The United States is the wealthiest nation on Earth. We must be investing in women and girls, not cutting funding and assistance that saves lives, protects the vulnerable and builds better futures.

Empowering women and girls is not controversial, it is essential. It means giving every girl the opportunity she deserves--the right--to go to school and receive an education. It means eliminating discrimination, exploitation and violence against women and girls-- whether it be trafficking, forced marriage of girls, or pay discrimination right here in the United States.

Empowering women means access to employment, healthcare, and safe childcare. And, empowering women means asking a room full of women to think about standing up and be leaders--maybe running for elected office one day--for school board, city council, mayor, the state legislature, or the even the U.S. Congress.

I am sure that each of us here today is very concerned about new policies that are coming out of this White House that impact refugees. In my view, these policies are a betrayal of America's values and the core beliefs that make this a great country.

We must resist these close minded and harmful policies. We must resist in Congress, in the courts, and in our communities. But it is also critical to continue to be welcoming, caring and embracing of all New Americans. It is more important than ever.

There is amazing strength and perseverance in each and every refugee story. The millions of women, men and children who have found their way to America have made this country better. Their courage must now be our courage as we resist isolationism, bigotry, and the scapegoating of good people seeking freedom and a new life in America.

Olga Zoltai was a refugee who dedicated her life to welcoming refugees. Olga's work is now our work and must continue this important work the same passion and commitment.

Thank you for this very special award--I will treasure it. And, I will carry Olga in my heart as we fight to keep America a country that welcomes refugees and strives to offer hope, opportunity and freedom to all people.

Thank you, Kitty. Thank you, Jane. And, thank you to everyone here today.

Olga Zoltai, Patron Saint of Immigrants

On Thursday, June 9, 2016, former Institute staff member Olga Zoltai passed away. Olga was a tireless advocate for refugees and immigrants. Her tenacity and dedication improved the lives of thousands of New Americans in our community. A refugee herself--at the age of 13, Olga and her family fled her hometown of Sopron, Hungary as Soviet forces invaded-- Olga worked at the International Institute of Minnesota from 1971 to 1993. During her years at the Institute, Olga designed innovative programs that responded to the needs of New Americans, transforming and strengthening our community.

When Olga heard that a new federal program to resettle refugees was beginning in 1974, she knew the Institute had to do this work. The Institute's Executive Director was on his honeymoon in Thailand when Olga heard about this opportunity. No one knew exactly where in Thailand he was honeymooning, but they did know he would not be back until after the application deadline had passed. Not to be deterred, Olga began calling hotels to see if a guest matching his description was staying there. She eventually found him, received his approval, and applied. Thanks to Olga, the Institute has welcomed more than 25,000 refugees to our community.

Olga was the caseworker who welcomed the first Hmong refugees to Minnesota in February 1976. She got the call of their arrival the night before the family's 6 a.m. arrival. The youngest child arrived wearing just a t-shirt, but Olga and the church sponsoring the family brought blankets to the airport.

It is now common for refugee resettlement agencies to have caseworkers who are from the communities they serve, and it was Olga who hired the first bi-lingual case manager in Minnesota.

Olga founded the Nursing Assistant Training Program in 1991 to provide New Americans access to entry-level jobs in healthcare. In the program's 25 years, more than 1,900 nursing assistants have been employed. At a recent Nursing Assistant graduation, the class speaker declared: ``Today is the greatest accomplishment of our lives. Today, we begin our lives as caregivers. You are changing not just our lives, but our family's lives as well.''

Additionally, Olga worked on hundreds of political asylum cases and was known to be a unwavering advocate for those the most complex cases. ``I was so lucky, you know?'' Olga said when she reflected on her life's story. When her chance came, ``I was able to help.''

Olga was awarded the eponymous ``Olga Zoltai Award for Outstanding Service to New Americans'' at the Institute's International Women's Day Tea in March 2016.