Her team opens doors for newcomers
By Jessica Laskey
Jessie Tientcheu has spent her career empowering people.
As CEO of Opening Doors, Tientcheu is responsible for a complex organization that provides economic and social services to refugees, immigrants, human trafficking survivors and underserved Sacramento area residents.
Before becoming CEO in 2019, she volunteered for the organization’s refugee resettlement program, helping newcomers connect to their new community.
“I had known and loved Opening Doors for a really long time,” says Tientcheu, a Los Angeles native who served in the Peace Corps in Cameroon before settling in Sacramento in 2008. “I first volunteered with them in the fall of 2009, but really dove in head first in 2016.
“The election got a lot of us thinking about what kind of communities we wanted to live in, and we decided to lean into the positive response: welcoming people and doing good in the midst of everything going on at the national level. Working with Opening Doors kept me grounded.”
Opening Doors was founded in 1993 as the Sacramento Refugee Ministry, a refugee resettlement agency sponsored by the Interfaith Service Bureau. The mission was to help refugees from the former Soviet Union, Southeast Asia and elsewhere find homes. That mission quickly expanded when clients began requesting help starting businesses, which led to the founding of the Microenterprise Assistance program.
In 2003, the organization incorporated as a nonprofit under the name Opening Doors and became a Community Development Financial Institution the following year. Since then, new services include helping survivors of human trafficking, intensive case management, trauma and crisis intervention, immigration legal services and women’s health.
When the pandemic hit, Opening Doors expanded its services to offer food aid, unemployment and financial assistance, health access and home learning information to people hit hardest by the pandemic—immigrants and communities of color.
“The depth of vulnerability has become greater,” Tientcheu says. “We took a survey four months (into the pandemic) and found that 40 percent (of our clients) had some sort of financial impact—losing a job, having their work hours cut, not being able to work because their kids were out of school.
“We made a big push into various kinds of emergency relief, investing our own resources, securing grants to get cash assistance out to folks, linking to food aid services and partnering with other organizations to get meals and grocery boxes delivered.”
While Tientcheu acknowledges many people view helping newcomers from a humanitarian or faith angle—that it’s “just the right thing to do”—she points out the economic argument for welcoming them into our community.
“Refugees and immigrants make a huge economic impact,” Tientcheu says, noting that an estimated 29,000 health care workers are DACA recipients and that newcomers contribute $21,000 more in taxes than they use in public benefits, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Immigrants are more likely to start a business—30 percent of entrepreneurs in the U.S. are immigrants, though they comprise only 13 percent of the population.
Sacramento has benefitted from these statistics. It continues to rank as one of the most diverse cities in the country. And newcomers continue to bring their entrepreneurial spirit, which gives Tientcheu hope.
“Despite the challenges of 2020, I’m incredibly hopeful about the future,” she says. “Sacramento as a community is incredibly welcoming. With that broad support, newcomers will continue to have the ability to contribute positively to our community.”
For more information, visit openingdoorsinc.org.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.