June is Immigrant Heritage Month and an excellent time to showcase the diversity that is reflected through our workforce.
The diverse FEMA workforce is made of people from all different backgrounds, reflecting the wide range of cultures found throughout America. Join us this month as we spotlight employees who share their stories about what coming to the United States as an immigrant means to them.
Margarita (Rita) Andryushchenko was 12 years old when she, her mother and brother immigrated from Ukraine to the United States. After flying in an airplane for the first time, Rita landed in Sacramento, California with her family. She started noticing stark differences as soon as she stepped off the sidewalk marveling at the lushness of the green lawns and perfectly manicured landscapes.
The next day when Rita and her family went to the grocery store, and she was astounded to see such abundance. The aisles were fully stocked with a variety of products that she had never seen before.
After settling in the U.S., Rita’s family began signing up for social programs that were available to them to help get a life started in their new country, where everything seemed new and scary, according to Rita. The availability of government assistance like food stamps and medical insurance was another big surprise. “In Ukraine, we survived off the kindness of our neighbors. We all helped each other and shared our resources. We were so grateful to receive government assistance as soon as we arrived,” said Rita. Because of this assistance, Rita’s mother enrolled in English and typing classes.
At first Rita found living in the U.S. tough. She was equipped with only the basics of the English language, but she was determined to learn quickly. Within the first 6 months, Rita improved her skills and began communicating in English. Years later, Rita decided to major in English at Fresno Pacific University after discovering how much she loved the language, literature and communication.
After graduating with a bachelor’s in English, Rita’s first career was as a high school English teacher. Starting as a substitute teacher and later acquiring her teaching credential from California State University, Rita described herself as “being young and idealistic and wanting to save the world.” Teaching did not pan out the way Rita expected, and she decided to take a year to find a more personally gratifying career.
It was during this hiatus that Rita participated in the AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps program and kicked off her career in emergency management. Rita worked on response and recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and learned a great deal thanks to FEMA’s Marty Bahamonde and Bill Vogel.
After completing the program, Rita was hired by FEMA and began working in the Planning cadre in 2014. Two years later, Rita switched offices to do cadre management in External Affairs to learn more about the agency from a different perspective. For the past two and a half years, she has worked as a liaison between FEMA’s Joint Information Center and the National Response Coordination Center where she still serves today.
Rita describes working for the federal government as a big milestone in her story, stating “there’s a lot of pride in that.” She says that she’s proud to give back to a country that gave so much to her and her family.
“All of us are immigrants to one degree or another,” she says. “Whether you are a native of another country coming to the U.S. as a refugee in search of a chance for a better life or a tenth-generation resident of this country, we’re almost all immigrants. Hopefully, my story can refresh people’s perspectives on what it means to be an immigrant and how similar we all are while appreciating the differences and intricacies of each other’s cultures. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to serve the people of the United States and achieve my dreams in hopes of a better future for me and all people of this country.”