Every year on September 26, Jasenko Mondom and his family quietly celebrate the anniversary of one of the most important days in their lives. It was on that date in 1997 they completed their journey from war-torn Bosnia and arrived in the United States. "That date represents our new year and new life. We've been gone so long now that we've actually been outside of Bosnia longer than we were in Bosnia."
The Mondom's lives, and the lives of their countrymen, began unraveling quickly in 1992 when war broke out in Bosnia. "The troops came in and rolled over our city. They had lists of people they were looking for and if you heard your name might be on a list, you didn't double check or wait."
Fearing the worst, the Mondom's decided they would leave right away. He was operating a small business at the time and said he was crossing the border to buy parts. Mondom, his wife, and infant son were given authorization to cross the border temporarily. They left and never came back.
The Mondom's went to Germany where they were recognized as refugees. They received a temporary permit to stay and were given jobs. "Eventually we heard the U.S. was accepting refugees. We filled out the application, did an interview, and waited to hear." Five years after arriving in Germany, on September 26, 1997, they landed in the United States. "We could not pack up all of our belongings when we left Bosnia. We arrived in Germany with two bags and we arrived in the U.S. with four bags."
Mondom's wife, who was a doctor in Bosnia, continued practicing medicine in Syracuse. Her husband, who had gone through the Refugee Assistance Program, was hired by the Syracuse City School District as an Employment Consultant. He trained refugees for entry level manufacturing, teaching them Introduction to Tools and Machines. "I tell them 'I was you. I was sitting right here. No one gave me this job. I had to work, study, improve my skills, my language, go back to school, step by step.'"
His connection with Onondaga Community College started in 2007 when he enrolled in the Business Administration degree program. He had attended college in Bosnia, but classes were taught in traditional-looking school buildings or churches. The OCC campus was much different. "Everything looked great here. And the professors were very professional."
After OCC he continued his education at Columbia College where he earned a bachelor's degree in Human Resources while continuing to work for the Syracuse City School District. He was also recognized with multiple awards including:
- Certificate of Recognition from the school district for consistently exhibiting grace, empathy, and professionalism while working with clients.
- Certificate of Recognition from SUNY Upstate Medical University for outstanding performance and lasting contributions to the Nursing Grant Rounds.
- Inducted into the YWCA Academy of Diversity Achievers.
He continues to give back to the community as a member of several advisory boards including the Healthcare Advancement Resources Center in Syracuse, the CNY Blessing Box food pantry, and the New Americans Forum. He's also a member of the World Refugee Day celebration committee and is known as the "flag man" for the creative hat he wears which displays flags from around the world.
Mondom was recently invited to join the CNY Regional Economic Development Advisory Group to help organize advanced manufacturing training in Syracuse in connection with the opening of Micron's computer chip-making plant. "They are bingo! I'm very confident the chain reaction of them coming here will touch every community in Syracuse. Great things will come because of this."
Great things have come to refugees because of Mondom. In fact, more than 1,000 have wound up in new jobs thanks to his guidance. One of them is a refugee from Cuba who is now a professional colleague. "He pushed, pushed, pushed and got assembly jobs at TTM and United Radio. A job came up at Syracuse City Schools, I spoke to my boss and told him he was one of my students, they checked his resume, and the next week he was employed." Now he works in Information Technology and occasionally helps Mondom with computer issues.
This past September 26th marked the Mondom's 25th year in the United States. His wife continues to practice medicine in the region and their son, who was an infant when they left Bosnia, earned his Ph.D. in American History and is 31 years old. "We built a life. It was the American Dream like from the book. You come, you work hard, and you will make it," Jasenko Mondom said.
Part of his American Dream is continuing to help those who are beginning the path he and his family have traveled. "Refugees are good, hard working people. The best feeling for me at the end of the day is job placement. There is nothing better than knowing you've helped someone. Maybe as a doctor if you help someone walk again, that's better. But to know you've changed someone's life is the best. We change lives one by one."