Opening opportunities for refugee communities in New York City

Contributed by Marialejandra Chuy Silva CSR, VEP, Local Communications & Activities Coordinator at ILSC-New York and Megan Johnson, Program Associate at Church World Service Jersey City.

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When I first started working for ILSC-New York as a Corporate Social Responsibility Coordinator, I remember a very ambitious project we had: finding refugees who we could offer English scholarships to. As oddly as it sounds, it was really hard to find organizations to work with, especially due the fact that nobody seemed to know what position the US had regarding this issue (receiving refugees or not).

It wasn’t until April this year, when I was scrolling through my e-mail that I came across a story that stopped me in my tracks “A family of 7 refugees arrives in New Jersey.” Eureka!

The story named the organization that was helping and supporting this family: Church World Services (CWS). They are an authorized organization that receives refugees the government assigns to them, and it’s their duty to support them for their firsts months in the country. I immediately went to their website and, after reading their history and mission, sent an email and kept my fingers crossed.

What came afterwards was a very fast avalanche. We got in touch with Megan Johnson, who came to our school to learn more about ILSC and the project we wanted to set in motion. Not long after that, we received our first group of refugees!

Only teachers and staff know about their migratory status, and we work tirelessly to make them feel part of the community, and to make them feel comfortable, because we are all citizens of the world and we should feel like we belong, regardless our nationalities or backgrounds!

Now, we are trying to find more organizations, this time in the west coast, to expand our CSR campaign to our school in San Francisco, California. It might be a challenge, but we will overcome it! It’s us, the ones who must be the change we want to see in the world, so, we are happy acting accordingly!

Here’s what Megan from CWS had to say about her experience with ILSC:

Working at the refugee resettlement office Church World Service in Jersey City has taught me the importance of community partnerships.  Without supportive partners, refugees resettled in the United States would face a much more daunting journey to self-sufficiency.

In exploring local ESL partners, it has been difficult to find cost effective solutions for refugees arriving to the United States with nothing.  Free classes, though available, can fill up quickly and vary in suitability for refugee clients. There are a number of concerns to be addressed- from ensuring that ESL classes are held in a location accessible by public transit to ensuring that students are able to take classes appropriate to their English levels.

When I first visited ILSC in New York I was extremely impressed with the quality of the facilities and program offerings. From a computer lab to extracurricular activities, multiple schedule options and the full spectrum of levels of study, I was truly blown away by the opportunities that ILSC is presenting to the community.  Now ILSC in New York has generously offered scholarships to newly resettled refugees from our office.

From the perspective of Church World Service, I can say that this scholarship has been life changing for a number of our clients. Working in partnership I have found ILSC to be professional and compassionate in enrolling students.  Scholarship students are treated just as students paying their own tuition.  Our refugee clients are integrated right into ESL sessions, giving them not only a language learning school, but also a new community.

Students have been able to start as beginners or college-level English learners.  This adaptability has made ILSC a perfect fit for a number of refugees who were previously falling through the cracks of other ESL options. Our clients say they love their teachers and classes and proudly report what they learned that day. It has been a pleasure working together!

Thank you ILSC!



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