Supporting New Americans in Staten Island

 

 

Since the YMCA opened a branch on Ellis Island in 1910, the organization has worked to help new arrivals succeed in New York. Today, the YMCA operates seven New Americans Welcome Centers around the city, each serving the particular needs of their local communities.
 
“These are not cookie cutter programs,” says Joanne Springstead, Program Director of the Staten Island New Americans Welcome Center. “The immigrant communities of each borough are different. Here in Staten Island, access to services is a challenge.”
 
The YMCA provides a range of services to immigrant New Yorkers, including English, citizenship preparation, and computer literacy. When state funding for these programs ended earlier this year, CWE stepped in to keep the classes in session.
 

 

 

The Staten Island New Americans Welcome Center – based at a YMCA branch on the island’s North Shore – works with local churches and community organizations to host classes close to where immigrants live, and refer them to supporting services like food pantries and employment programs.
 
“It’s really a grassroots service,” says Springstead. “We refer our participants to them, and they refer their participants to us for the programs we specialize in or for programs in more convenient locations.”
 
For many years, the immigrant New Yorkers coming to the New Americans Welcome Center in Staten Island were mostly from Latin America. Recently, that has begun to change and more Asian, Middle Eastern, and African immigrants have been seeking out the center’s services.
 
“People are coming from all over to settle in Staten Island,” says Springstead.

 

 

The citizenship preparation class draws immigrants who are just starting the citizenship process as well as those approaching their citizenship test date. In classes that meet twice a week over three months, they learn the civics necessary to succeed in the test.
 
The English for Speakers of Other Languages class, also a three-month class, brings together a professional teacher and volunteers to support a group students who speak English at a range of levels. English class participants can also enroll in a complimentary computer literacy class where they will learn the basics of using a computer and common programs.
 
In total, 75 Staten Islanders are enrolled in the classes this session, and about 250 are served annually.
 
In a borough with limited transit and where “commutes can take longer than the classes,” says Springstead, the YMCA New Americans Welcome Center is helping immigrants succeed in their new home.