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VIProfile: Alice Tarnagda

By Emily Robertson

Alice Tarnagda was born and raised in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, but it took traveling across the globe and living in Africa for her to realize her true purpose was here in Bowling Green.

After moving to Bowling Green to attend and graduate from WKU, Tarnagda moved to Kenya for two years. A job working with college students at a Bowling Green church brought her back to south central Kentucky for the next 10 years, but the draw of international work was still on her heart and during her next time overseas, her life would change dramatically. While working in Burkina Faso, she met and married her future husband, Daniel, and the two began to plan for their future.

“We decided to come back to Bowling Green so I could get my master’s degree,” Tarnagda says. “The reason I wanted to get the degree I pursued was because of my husband, Daniel. His father is blind and his family wanted us to run a blind school in the area where he grew up.  When we came back, we planned to stay maybe two to three years; just long enough for Daniel to get citizenship and for me to get my master’s in adult education and training.”

But the Tarnagda’s plans would soon change again. Daniel was the only person from Burkina Faso in the area and struggled to connect with other immigrants that came to the area under different circumstances. “In 2015, Daniel decided he would start a soccer team to help him connect with people from the African community here,” Tarnagda says. “We moved closer to the housing authority so we could be near to the refugee communities in the area and he started a team with junior high and high school students.”

The idea for the team worked and Daniel, along with Alice, started to connect to immigrants. As they did, the families began to ask for information and help in other areas of life, such as medical care, transportation and daily life needs that are difficult to navigate when you have relocated from a foreign country. 

“As we would help one family, they would talk to their friends and suddenly there were a lot of families we were helping,” Tarnagda says. “Eventually, in 2018, we applied for a grant and the chance to start our own 501c3 organization working with immigrants and refugees in the Bowling Green area and Refuge Bowling Green was born.”

Refuge Bowling Green works with local families to provide an English academy, driver’s education assistance and help in finding and retaining employment, along with recreational opportunities through soccer.

“Part of the issue with people not being able to find local employment is the barrier of low English education, so we incorporated English heavily into our soft skills and employment programming,” Tarnagda says. “We started the Refuge English Academy, where we have English classes that meet weekly, and in that, we help people find local employment.”

Tarnagda’s education and experience with Refuge Bowling Green would eventually lead her to her most recent career change, a job at Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College in the Workforce Solutions department, a position that was really the culmination of a lot of her previous work and education.

“I had done so much work on the client services side of employment and providing soft skills to clients,” Tarnagda says. “We realized after six years of doing that type of work, it’s very difficult if you are constantly working with the client, but you don’t have any open door with the employers. I wanted that entry point to actually help employers understand this is a huge segment of our population that you can be working with to help address your workforce shortages and we can help you with that. Workforce Solutions can help with cultural competency trainings, and we can help you understand how to work alongside and incorporate immigrants and refugees into your work population.” 

Tarnagda believes SKYCTC truly is the answer for a lot of adult education and workforce training and will help employers see the potential for the people they already have working for them. “I think the community college is such a great resource, not just for technical skills, but in providing workforce training for all kinds of different topics; continuing additional learning of new topics, and continuing education and training for incumbent employees that are working in our local industries to make a better employee base. My thought is ‘you’ve already hired them, so why not invest in these folks that you’ve already hired to get more skills and gain more knowledge. It is just going to make you company better in the long run.’”

With Tarnagda’s move to SKYCTC, her husband, Daniel, took over Refuge Bowling Green and she is proud of the work he has done and how far he has come since arriving in Bowling Green. “He has gone through many issues and challenges and overcame those challenges and now is such a great resource at Refuge,” Alice says. “He works full-time for the organization and is running the program completely. He has gone from coming into America in 2013 and only speaking four words of English, to earning his GED and attending college, to now running a non-profit organization locally. He’s worked hard to get where he is and I’m so thankful for him.”
Besides their dedication to their work, the couple enjoys being outside and growing their own food, so their next goal is to start their own hobby farm, growing and canning their own foods and hopefully selling some items for additional family income.

The Tarnagdas biggest influence in all they do is their faith in Jesus and with everything they do, they hope to point to Jesus and his teachings. “Everything Daniel and I do is centered around Christ,” Tarnagda says. “We truly seek his direction in all the decisions we make. We see ourselves as a walking gospel, and as people who walk with others, supporting them and loving them.”

Looking to the future, Tarnagda understands that while it is important to make plans, she also wants to be open to other potential opportunities. “I think I’ve learned in my life to make goals and plans, but also hold those plans loosely,” Tarnagda says. “I want to listen and always be open to opportunities that I might not have planned.”

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