Bridge Refugee Services’ new Executive Director hopes to cast a wider net when it comes to resettlement in East Tennessee.

“I want to see what I can do to streamline processes, make things simpler and better utilize resources so we can impact the most people we can,” said Stephanie Livigni. “For 2023 and beyond, being able to impact as many people as possible and looking at what else we can provide – resettlement services, plus other things – are my priorities.”

Stephanie Livigni

Livigni came to Bridge in November 2022 with six years of experience as an Executive Director, including the past four years at the helm of the Maryville-based nonprofit, The Gate – Gateway to Independence. Her nonprofit experience also includes a year as Executive Director of United Cerebral Palsy of Washington DC, and Northern Virginia.

She said her 18-year career of working with both private and publicly funded programs, including those earmarked to serve people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, will inform the work she’ll be doing to serve refugees and other clients who turn to Bridge for support as they build brighter futures for themselves and their families. Both groups, she said, have had to overcome bias, persecution or personal trauma.

“The barriers are similar – transportation, housing, income,” she said.

Livigni first learned of Bridge’s mission when she relocated with her husband to Blount County in 2018 and, through her work with The Gate, joined East Tennessee’s group of nonprofit leaders.

“My biggest asset is having an understanding of the nonprofit world specific to East Tennessee,” she said. “I understand the volunteer mentality here and how amazing the support is in the community.”

Through her participation in Leadership Blount this past year, she strengthened relationships with community partners and identified additional resources and grant opportunities that can benefit Bridge’s clients.

“Transportation, transitional housing and child care are the biggest barriers to our clients getting jobs and being able to support themselves and thrive in our community,” she said. “We’re always looking for ways to eliminate those barriers, and I would love for us to have some sort of transportation system, transitional housing system and child care system in place. I know other
nonprofits are struggling with similar challenges and maybe there’s a way to join forces and tackle them together.”

Livigni, a native of central Pennsylvania and mother of two young children, earned her undergraduate degree in psychology from Millersville University of Pennsylvania and a master of education in human services from the University of Dayton.

“I am currently working towards my post-master’s certification in applied behavioral analysis,” she said. “The one thing I’m looking forward to is better understanding what our clients are facing and what Bridge Refugee Services is facing. The community has been so supportive, but it’s vital we help more people understand the plight of a refugee and what they’re dealing with, why they come to America and what they deal with when they get on the ground here.”

Since January 2022, Bridge has resettled 638 new clients across East Tennessee, including 389 who came through the Uniting for Ukraine humanitarian effort. Those efforts coincide with unprecedented numbers of Cuban and Haitian migrants seeking Bridge’s help after entering the US through the Cuban-Haitian Entrant Program. They also come on the heels of Bridge’s participation in Operation Allies Welcome to support parolees and asylees from Afghanistan. These numbers are in addition to the clients Bridge continues to serve for up to five years. Over 60 are still on the wait list to enroll for Bridge’s services.

Making sure Bridge continues to have the appropriate social supports for clients to acclimate to life in America is also at the forefront of Livigni’s plans.

“A refugee is someone who wants to be here and because of whatever else is going on, they don’t have an option to be in their home country,” she said. “We understand it’s not an easy transition. We want to support and help them through that journey. We have an amazing staff, but volunteers really help drive this organization.”

Volunteering to greet new arrivals at the airport, set up their apartments, provide transportation to appointments, mentor students and serve as translators or interpreters continue to be ways people can support Bridge, she said.

With the holiday season right around the corner, she added in-kind donations, including bedding, furniture, household items, and gas cards, and monetary donations fully support Bridge’s clients.

“There are a lot of random, unexpected costs associated with resettling [our clients],” she said. “It can be something as simple as we need to come up with a deposit for them to rent an apartment tomorrow, or we need to pay for an Uber to get them to an office to sign documents.”

Livigni said she’ll continue to seek grants to fund Bridge’s programs while encouraging more community support so the organization can position itself to support even more clients on their road to self-sufficiency.

“I love that we are supporting people to live their best life,” she said. “We’re supporting people to live a safer life, to be free from persecution and the things they faced in their home countries. Resettlement is an amazing humanitarian effort and I’m excited to be able to part of that.”