By Jeff Thielman, President and CEO at the International Institute of New England
As our 2023 fiscal year comes to a close, I want to take a moment to reflect on a year that was unlike any other – and to thank you, our supporters, for rising to meet a level of need none of us could have anticipated a year ago.
This past year was remarkable in many ways:
The vast majority of those entering services have come here from Haiti, where political turmoil, natural disasters, water scarcity and famine, and widespread gang violence have displaced millions. Many put their hopes in the U.S. and set off on a long and perilous journey, and for tens of thousands, Massachusetts is their final stop and their new beginning. Here they join a rich community and the 3rd largest Haitian diaspora in the U.S. For Haitian immigrants—and for the thousands of clients we serve each year from more than 60 countries of origin—IINE provides life-saving support by unlocking and delivering federal and state benefits (including food, healthcare, and housing support) they are eligible for and cannot receive without the help of an organization like ours.
The challenges immigrants face when entering the U.S. are immense. Their journeys to self-sufficiency are often hampered by inadequate funding in Massachusetts for adult ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes, which have extremely long wait lists. Some immigrants also experience delays in the approval of the federal work authorization documents needed to secure jobs. IINE has advocated for increased state and federal funding to expedite immigrant entry into our workforces, lobbying regularly to improve and expand services that support the stabilization and integration of families with so much to offer our community and economy.
Core to all our programming is IINE’s long-term vision that refugees and immigrants are able to realize their dreams and contribute to New England’s growth and prosperity. In support of this, this year IINE launched a new Financial Literacy class. Taught at our Boston and Lowell offices and free for all students, the class covers a range of topics from the basics of banking to financial planning, buying a home, and understanding credit scores and reports. We also piloted a new job skills training program focused on professional development. Designed for a range of English language levels, the course focuses on workplace norms in the U.S. Topics include professionalism and social skills, customer service, email etiquette, transferable skills, teamwork/collaboration, resume and cover letter writing, job search strategies, mock interviews, and salary negotiations. Learn more about the program in our interview with Associate Director of Workforce Initiatives Kubana Alexis.
This Spring, in partnership with Stellar Story Company and Global Arts Live, seven storytellers took to the Somerville Theatre stage to share their own stories of migration and cross-cultural exchange. Recounting hardship, triumph, and self-discovery, the storytellers brought audience members to their feet. Four additional storytellers, including our youth client Mapendo Mutingamo, shared their personal journeys at IINE’s World Refugee Day celebration at Middlesex Community College in Lowell. Experience our youth client Mapendo’s Suitcase Stories performance on our blog.
Launched in the summer of 2022, Resettle Together is a new kind of community sponsorship model through which volunteers enter into a formal partnership with IINE to raise resources for, welcome, and resettle a family of refugees. The partnership expands capacity while drawing on our staff’s expertise and each volunteer group’s community roots. The result? Refugees feel more deeply supported, welcomed, and integrated into their new communities. Over the past year, ten new Resettle Together groups have formed, successfully completed orientation, and have been matched with an IINE refugee family. Tom Barrington, a member of the group “Team Together,” shared his experience. “Accompanying a refugee family is an immense privilege,” he said. “We are able to get to know courageous people who have all kinds of hope and dreams for their future. They have all kinds of opportunities along a crooked road. We cannot travel that road for them but can be with them.” Hear more about his group’s experience supporting an Afghan family of nine in our Town Hall webinar.
Thank you again for your ongoing support. Refugees and immigrants are finding safety and hope in our region because of you.