Queens People of the Week: Volunteers Help Immigrants Achieve the American Dream
Our latest Queens People of the Week spend countless hours helping immigrants ease into their new lives as Americans. Leisha Majtan introduces us.
Emira Habiby Brown understands the obstacles many immigrants face.
She emigrated here from Palestine as a college student already knowing English. But still, fitting in was challenging.
“I still had a really hard time adjusting to American culture and American ways. So I always thought to myself, if I came and had those kinds of issues, I can't imagine what these families must go through. Many here have no one to support them,” she said.
That's why Habiby Brown made it her mission to help other immigrants. She founded the nonprofit organization "Center for the Integration and Advancement of New Americans," or C.I.A.N.A., in 2006. Since its launch, the organization has helped thousands with free language, legal, and educational services.
“We are an immigrant country, and these families want to do well, want to succeed, but they just need that extra push, that help, that support that guidance,” Habiby Brown said.
C.I.A.N.A. is run almost completely by volunteers. Funding cuts have made operating difficult, but with the help of volunteer tutors and lawyers, the doors are still open.
“There are a lot of immigrants that are coming and that are here and they make up this whole country. And it's like, if they don’t have this type of help, then how will they ever be able to survive in this country?” said Jillian Rivera, a volunteer with C.I.A.N.A.
“There are many people who are hesitant to apply for help because they’re frightened or they’re not sure what will happen if they do. When they come to CIANA, they're reassured,” said Daljit Singh, another volunteer.
Habiby Brown hopes to continue providing a safe space for immigrants for many years to come.
"I truly believe that we have to do this, that it is our obligation, our duty to do it. Whether you're paid or unpaid, that's not the issue. It's, what are we willing to do, to help others?” she said.
In an effort to bridge the funding gap, the nonprofit organization has launched an online crowd-funding campaign. For more information, visit www.keepcianaalive.causevox.com