Serving the Immigrant Community: One Library at a Time

By Carol Leon

When I started my AmeriCorps VISTA year at the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement almost nine months ago I had no idea what was in store for me. Today, I am happy to say it has been an incredibly fulfilling learning and professional experience. My role in the office as the Immigrant Information Corners Project Coordinator has allowed me to learn a great deal about intragovernmental collaborations, teamwork, and capacity building.

The Immigrant Information Corners project was originally going to be implemented in only 3-4 Boston Public Library branches. Today, these corners are up and running in all 24 branches of the Boston Public Library, including the Central library. The resources available in them include: citizenship information, financial empowerment information, and public and community resources.  This initiative was the result of the collaboration between the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement* (MOIA), the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Office (USCIS), the Mayor’s Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE) and the Boston Public Library (BPL).

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My main responsibility as the Immigrant Information Corners Program Coordinator has been establishing and maintaining the communication between MOIA, USICS, OFE, and BPL. My priority since day one was to connect these agencies in order to plan the distribution of materials for the corners, the corners’ set-up process, and the launch of the initiative. My role has been to build bridges and connect these agencies in order for them to develop sustainable and strong relationships among each other. The end goal is to create a self-sustaining program that will benefit thousands of immigrants by offering information and programming relevant to their needs.

The most rewarding experience I have had so far was seeing all these agencies come together to launch the Immigrant Information Corners on April 14. It was incredible to see the efforts of many months come to fruition in such a tangible way during the Immigrant Information Corners Ribbon Cutting Press Conference. Hearing the representatives speak about how grateful they were for the opportunity to come together on an initiative that will serve the immigrant community was reassuring.

Around 60 people were part of the event including the Honorable Mayor Martin J. Walsh; Special Assistant to the President for Immigration Policy, Felicia Escobar; Interim President of the Boston Public Library, David Leonard; Director of Citi Community Development, Eileen Auld; and USCIS District Director, Denis Riordan. That day marked the official start of the initiative and the wrap up of the setting-up stage.

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The next aspect of the initiative we are beginning to focus on is developing programming at certain branches such as legal consultations and citizenship application clinics as well as financial empowerment workshops. This will bring services that are needed among immigrant communities to their neighborhood libraries and it will motivate immigrant families to go to their local libraries and take advantage of the resources and services that are already offered there. My hope is that, as previously mentioned, the collaboration between my office and the Boston Public Library will not stop after the program. I want this collaboration to become a long-lasting strong relationship. I envision a wide-range of programming for the immigrant community taking place in all 24 branches of BPL.

It’s still hard for me to believe the unique opportunity I took when I accepted this AmeriCorps VISTA position. Seeing my project become a reality in such a short amount of time has given me a great sense of professional and personal accomplishment. However, I believe what I am most grateful for is to be part of such a dedicated, caring, and brilliant team. I am lucky to say I look forward to coming to the office every day because I believe in the office’s mission, my team, and my project. Serving with MOIA has reassured my passion to serve the immigrant community. Now, more than ever, I want to pursue a career where I can advocate for a community I consider myself a part of.

 

*The Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement (MOIA) was established in 1998 to meet the needs of the growing and changing immigrant and newcomer communities in Boston. MOIA’s mission is strengthen the ability of diverse cultural and linguistic communities to play an active role in the economic, civic, social and cultural life in the city of Boston; to act as a catalyst for providing opportunity, access and equality for immigrants; to highlight the contributions and the essential role that immigrants have played and continue to play in making Boston the world class city that it is.