From Iran, to adversity in U.S., to JVS success story

Noushin Mizani had worked as a registered nurse for nearly a decade when she moved from her native Iran to the United States in 2006. She was moving to be with her husband, which brought her joy, but what sticks out for Mizani — now a Danville resident — is the memory of how difficult it was to adjust to everyday life here.

“It’s just such a different culture,” said Mizani, 38. “It was a challenge to learn English, to learn how everything worked. And it was a very, very big challenge for me to be a nurse again.”

She took English classes and studied hard, passing her RN exam about a year after arriving in the U.S. But finding work in the middle of a burgeoning financial crisis was a different matter. In 2009, her husband was searching the Internet for jobs for his wife when he stumbled upon a “nursing refresher program” open to immigrants.

Noushin Mizani

The program is one of more than 100 specialized job skills courses offered by JVS in San Francisco. The couple, who are Muslim, had never heard of JVS, or Jewish Vocational Services, and Mizani assumed it would just be for Jewish people, but her husband convinced her to give them a call.

Three years later, after completing her program at JVS — including hands-on volunteer experience at the John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek Hospital — Mizani is a well-respected nurse on staff at two East Bay home health care companies, BrightStar and Amedisys.

Perhaps most importantly, “I love what I do,” she said. “I love helping people. I’m grateful every day that this is my job.”

Mizani is one of four JVS alumni who will be honored with the title “Employee of the Year” at the 20th annual JVS Strictly Business Awards Luncheon, set for Monday, May 7 at the Hilton San Francisco near Union Square. The event celebrates the achievements of extraordinary participants and serves as a fundraiser for JVS.

 “Since the early years of this event, it’s always been part of the discussion that we want this to be different from a traditional fundraiser,” said Abby Snay, executive director of JVS since 1984. “It’s incredibly important to honor the people who have gone through our programs, to recognize the fact that they’ve changed their lives, to recognize their courage and success.”

In 2011 alone, the organization served nearly 5,400 clients and helped more than 1,000 people find jobs, according to JVS statistics.

The other Employees of the Year for 2012 are Olivia Quiñonez, Charles Medlin and Eduardo Siqueiros.

Quiñonez lost her job in the financial sector when the stock market crashed and now works for the employment agency Manpower as a staff recruiter. Medlin, a painter who struggled with substance abuse and homelessness, is now sober, stable and working at the San Francisco Produce Market. Siqueiros was kicked out of his house at 16 and subsequently dropped out of high school, but with the help of JVS, he secured a job at Mission Neighborhood Health Center, completed his GED and is applying to City College of San Francisco to become a pharmacy technician.

Snay is proud that JVS welcomes people regardless of their background.

“Certainly, the organization’s values are in line with what it means to be Jewish, and we take great pride in that,” Snay said. “But we also take great pride in being a Jewish organization that serves the whole community.”

At this year’s luncheon, one particular absence will be felt by many, added Snay: that of Warren Hellman, a longtime supporter of JVS and its work. “We’ll be spending a minute just remembering him with great sadness and affection,” she said. The philanthropist and civic leader died Dec. 18, 2011.

But for the most part, the celebration will be just that — an upbeat look back at what people are able to accomplish with the proper support and resources.

“I tell everybody to go to JVS!” Mizani said with a laugh. “So much of my success started with calling them. It took time to find work, still … but if I had never called them, I wouldn’t be the person I am right now.”

JVS Strictly Business Awards Luncheon
, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday, May 7 at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square, 333 O’Farrell St., S.F. $75-$150 and up. or (415) 391-3600.

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.