When the New York Times reported that a nonprofit that had served New York’s immigrant and refugee community for 50 years would have to close its doors, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York stepped in to ensure that the critical services provided by the organization could still continue.
This month, Catholic Charities recreated the services that had been provided by the International Center, previously located in Chelsea, to complement existing Catholic Charities services for immigrants and refugees.
The new services, which range from job readiness and skills training, to English language classes, to educational enrichment programs, are currently being led at the Catholic Charities headquarters by four former International Center employees, now part of the Catholic Charities staff: Mira Erickson, Shawn Mullin, Anna Petelka and Elaine Roberts.
One of the most prized services is the “conversation partners” program, where volunteers are matched with students to serve as English language tutors, and as a source of encouragement to continue learning and pursuing their goals.
According to staff, this program “provides an atmosphere of trust and support that … is often not as easy to create in a classroom setting. As in any successful language learning situation, it is a partnership of equals: while the newcomer works on acquiring the language, the volunteer works on developing strategies of engaging in a subtle process of mobilizing, inspiring, monitoring, and guiding.”
Volunteers are a large part of what have made these services to the international community so successful for the past 50 years. Many who received services have gone on to become volunteers, teaching and mentoring future students.