Exuberant applause erupts as the three women walk through the door, each proudly sporting an “I Voted” sticker. They have just returned to Mary’s Place, a refugee outreach center in Rochester, N.Y. One of the women is from Nepal, another from Burma, the other from Democratic Republic of the Congo. As resettled refugees and new citizens, they have just voted in the United States for the first time.
Few clap louder than Charlsey Bickett, a Pitt grad and the nonprofit’s executive director. Seeing the women’s pride fills her with a sense of accomplishment and hope. Helping refugees gain the knowledge and sense of belonging to actively participate in their new communities is a hallmark of her work.
Mary’s Place specializes in providing support and resources to refugees who come to the area from all over the world. It offers free services ranging from English and job-skill classes to food and clothing distribution, and even voting practice sessions, all with the goal of helping displaced people acclimate to their new homes. It’s work Bickett feels fortunate to offer.
She returned to Rochester, her hometown, after earning a master’s degree from Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and working for several Pittsburgh nonprofits. On the hunt for work that would enable her to help those in need, she learned about Mary’s Place and became inspired by its mission. She was appointed executive director in 2016 and has worked to expand the organization’s impact through fundraising and new programming like voting classes ever since.
“Right away, I knew I had made the right decision in coming here,” Bickett (GSPIA ’08) says. Now she works to help the country’s newest arrivals feel the same way.
This article appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Pitt Magazine.