American Place

Recently HPL was the receiver of three different grants that totaled an extraordinary amount of $50,000! Wow! Thank you to The Connecticut Department of Education, the New Alliance Foundation, and Wells Fargo. These three grants will support critical free programs the Library provides to Hartford adults, children, and families.

Here is a breakdown on each of the grants:

The Connecticut Department of Education-Bureau of Health/Nutrition, Family Services, and Adult Education awarded HPL funding in the amount of $35,000. That money will fund a 2015 Adult Education Program Improvement Project supporting English language learning and civic participation for low-literate immigrant populations. One of the greatest achievements of HPL is how many immigrants and refugees that we are able to help. We offer numerous classes to help children and adults to get acquainted to living in an American neighborhood and this fund helps us to continue to do that.

Wells Fargo gave HPL $10,000 that will go towards funding for a YOUmedia Core Programming Initiative (YCPI). This is a program that will essentially allow us to do critical research on our brand new, teens only, digital learning lab, YOUmedia. Being the first in Connecticut, and only the third in the whole country, it is critical to do research on this facility. YCPI will develop a programming model, acting as a test for the center’s first year of activity. This “test” will see how students are engaging inside it, how they are learning, etc. All of this will be done through marketing, program testing, and a pilot program.

The New Alliance Foundation awarded the Library $5,000 to support WordPlay Storytimes, an innovative program to help English Language Learners ages 2-5 and their parents/caregivers across all ten locations of the Hartford Public Library. This program will help to acclimatize immigrant and refugee children to a new cultural environment by utilizing common themes of letters, numbers, colors, shapes, and feelings, as well as well-known folktales that build cultural literacy and comfort.

 

Thank you to all three of our donors for these outstanding grants! With their help we can continue to be a place like no other!

It’s true: everyone is so busy, running from work to home to school to after-school activities and beyond.  When is there a chance for us to take the time to honor and celebrate our family and friendships or share our wonderful cultures and traditions with others?

A new Multicultural Neighborhood Place might provide just the answer, thanks to an initiative by the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association (AHNA) and Hartford Public Library.   To launch this new venture, on Tuesday evening, September 16, 2014, over 50 Asylum Hill residents gathered at the Lincoln Technical Institute for dinner and brainstorming about what they envision taking place at the Neighborhood Place.  The international diversity of Hartford’s population was well represented with attendees from the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Peru, Ethiopia, Burma, Thailand, Bhutan, Nepal, and Albania, as well as the United States.

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After self-introductions all around, co-facilitators Linda Bayer and Jim Boucher gave an overview of the project, including slides of urban and suburban neighborhood centers in other parts of the country, and then they opened the floor to discussion.  After all, as the co-facilitators emphasized to the group, “It is your work that will make this happen.”   To that end, during September, October, and November, Asylum Hill residents have the opportunity to participate in one of five focus groups to tease out the why’s, how’s, and where’s of establishing a neighborhood place. To ease communication, the groups are divided into age and language groups:  youth, Arabic and Middle Eastern languages, Bhutanese and Nepalese, African languages, and Karen.  The series will culminate in a report and celebration over dinner in mid-November, as the various groups come together and share their ideas and visions of a neighborhood place open to all residents.

Padam Bharati of Bhutan interpreting from English into Nepalese and Bhutanese.

Padam Bharati of Bhutan interpreting from English into Nepalese and Bhutanese.

Yet even at this preliminary meeting, the enthusiasm was evident as participants generated a long list of possible uses for this communal gathering place.  There was no shortage of ideas as people suggested a helping center for homework, a location for the elderly to congregate, a kitchen, a place for studying, sports, cultural and arts events, dance classes, employment services, English and computer classes, community theater, and a place to relax.

Co-facilitators Jim Boucher (standing) and Linda Bayer (sitting, bottom left) leading the group in a lively discussion about the Neighborhood Place.

Co-facilitators Jim Boucher (standing) and Linda Bayer (sitting, bottom left) leading the group in a lively discussion about the Neighborhood Place.

There was also discussion of the steps involved to make the center successful and sustainable, such as who are the stakeholders, what is the mission statement, will there be by-laws, how will the center be financed and supported, who will run and administer it, and so on.  All of these questions will be answered as the process unfolds.  For now the journey has just begun.

If you are interested in joining one of the focus groups or helping to make this neighborhood place a reality, please call 860-695-6316 or email: ncaddigan@hplct.org.

By Judy Wyman Kelly

By Judy Wyman Kelly

 

Hartford Commission on Refugees and Immigrant nominees telling a bit about their backgrounds and interest in the Commission.

Have you ever considered serving on a city commission? Eleven Hartford area residents have and on July 7 they were enthusiastically welcomed by Councilman Larry Deutsch to the newly-created Commission on Refugee and Immigrant Affairs. These 11 nominees had already submitted an application and been vetted by the Mayor.  Once approved by the Subcommittee on Health and Human Services and then the City Council, the Commissioners will meet monthly to discuss and act upon matters of concern to refugees and immigrants in the Hartford area and beyond.

The nominees assembled first at the Hartford Public Library where Linda Bayer, Office of the Mayor, gave a short briefing on what to expect.  She reassured them that the process was informal– they might be asked a few things about themselves and why they were interested in serving on the Commission.  After a few questions such as, “What happens next?” “How often does the Commission meet?” etc., we all walked across the street to City Hall.

I am always dazzled by the majesty of Hartford City Hall.  Built in 1914 on land donated by Hartford resident and financier J.P. Morgan, the building is adorned with gilded décor and vaulted glass ceilings, as well as a beautiful centrally located marble stairway.  One cannot help but feel both inspired and humbled by the grandeur of the architecture and interior design.

We made our way to the Council Chambers on the 2nd floor where the subcommittee meeting was just beginning.  The nominees filed in and were offered seats in the row of wooden chairs facing the council members.  Chair Deutsch warmly welcomed everyone, took care of a few small business matters, and then opened the floor to the nominees.

Each person was invited to say a few words about themselves and their reasons for joining the Commission.  Michael Akapan of Nigeria has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years yet remembers well when he first arrived as an immigrant:  “By serving on the Commission I hope to help other immigrants and refugees, and to solve problems in humanitarian ways.  There are a lot of challenges and we brace ourselves to make significant marks during the periods of our contribution to the Commission.” Padam Bharati of Bhutan was resettled in Hartford in 2009, along with 35 other families.  He recently passed his U.S. citizenship test and is studying to become a nurse.  Bharati hopes to “serve according to the needs of refugees.”

Indira Petoskey of St. Lucia is assistant dean in the School of Continuing Education at Eastern Connecticut State University.  An immigrant herself and adviser for many international students, Petoskey has a “major interest in working with immigrants and refugees.”  Estela Morales of Mexico “knows how it feels to come to a new country.”  Balam Soto of Guatemala hopes to “build a bridge for immigrants in the city,” and Georges Annan Kingsley of Côte d’Ivoire wishes to “take positive actions in the lives of immigrants and refugees.”  Mui Mui Hin-McCormick, formerly of Laos and current Executive Director of the Connecticut Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission, wants to “make sure that the Asian community is not forgotten.”

Joseph Morris Kalapele, a refugee from Liberia, has lived in Connecticut for ten years.   As a lack of support and information upon arrival in Hartford proved challenging for Kalapele, he hopes to share his experiences with the Commission in order to help other immigrants and refugees.  After much hard work, Kalapele earned a master’s degree from Central Connecticut State University.  Anne Dombrofski, who has worked with immigrant communities abroad and in the U.S. for decades, hopes to “bring about a community in which we can recognize the richness of our ethnic heritage and the contributions of all immigrants and refugees among us.”  Letticia Cotto, born and raised in Hartford, “looks to make Hartford a more welcoming city.”

Linda Bayer, Office of the Mayor (second from left), with newly-appointed Commission members (left to right), Elizabeth Cuentes, Letticia Cotto and Anne Dombrofski.

Several of the nominees attested to the important role that the Hartford Public Library played in facilitating their adjustment to the United States.  Kingsley described how the library helped him when he first arrived, and Elizabeth Cuentas of Peru credited the library for helping her become a citizen last year after 20 years in the U.S.  Chair Deutsch described the library as “being immensely helpful” in getting the new Commission up and running.

Once the nominees were voted in, Chair Deutsch jumped right into business urging the newly-appointed Commissioners to draft a resolution for the City Council addressing the humanitarian issue of undocumented children at the U.S. border with Mexico.  Immediately upon leaving the meeting, several Commissioners chatted in the hallway about next steps—a conversation that was followed by many email exchanges.

By the following Monday, a resolution had been passed by the City Council urging Hartford “to play a role in alleviating these oppressive conditions affecting children through influencing federal immigration policy with letters to the Administration AND through offers to receive those children who may be permitted to remain in this country.” The “small United Nations,” as Chair Deutsch referred to the members of the Commission, was already hard at work!  Commission member Dombrofski remarked, “I left Monday’s meeting feeling hopeful and energized, by all of you and members of the Council.  I am looking forward to working together!”

 

Commissioners Photo

Newly-appointed commissioners pose for a photo after receiving thank you gifts from the City of Hartford. From left to right: Dean Rhoden, Rebecca Thomas, Rio Comaduran, Balam Soto, Georges Kingsley and Eva Jacobson.

On a recent lovely summer evening, I made my way to the 19th floor of a Hartford skyscraper for a very special reception honoring some of the city’s most hard-working volunteers.   Generously hosted by the law firm Shipman & Goodwin, the locale offered a panoramic view of downtown Hartford, the majestic Connecticut River, and the state’s many rolling hills off in the distance. It was a view “one doesn’t get to see very often,” exclaimed one of the guests.

I had come to support and thank the newly-appointed members of the Hartford Commission on Refugee and Immigrant Affairs (CRIA).  With backing from the Hartford Public Library, the Hartford City Council, and the Mayor, the 21-person Commission will help refugees and immigrants engage in civic life, provide a forum for their ideas and concerns, and facilitate entry to the city for all new arrivals.

Dining on delicious appetizers and sipping refreshing cocktails, members of the various boards and commissions chatted and shared stories.  Dr. Rebecca Thomas of the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and an immigrant from India, shared some of her reasons for joining the Commission, “I have benefited from an education, interaction and engagement with my adopted country, and I would like to share some practical insights to a policy body that can effect change and work with the members of the Commission to best meet the needs of immigrants and the host communities.”

Rio Comaduran, born and raised in the U.S., said she “hopes to continue to bring immigrant and refugee issues to the forefront, ultimately affecting policy shifts and changes at the city level, and at the same time encouraging civic engagement and social capital building amongst immigrants.  And as a proud Hartford resident and grand-daughter of Mexican immigrants, there’s really nothing better! ”

Mayor Pedro Segarra thanked all of the volunteers and commissioners for their service, spending some time with the new CRIA members—American citizens Thomas, Comaduran, and Eva Jacobson, as well as Georges Kingsley Anan, a recent immigrant from Cote d’Ivoire, Dean Rhoden of Jamaica, and Balam Soto of Guatemala.  Mayor Segarra commented, “Hartford has always been a city of immigrants – from its founding to the present day. I am so excited about the new Commission.  We can help our new arrivals with their dreams and aspirations and they will contribute to the health and vibrancy of our city.”

 

Judy Wyman Kelly is a consultant for the Hartford Public Library’s The American Place, a center for immigration and citizenship, and a lecturer at the University of Hartford.

 

By Jyotsna Khattri-Chettri |  Photography credit: Tikeyah Whittle, CPBN Media Lab

I adjusted the microphone and looked up at more than 80 sets of eyes looking at me very patiently. For a moment, I lost my voice and all my poise and cool. Just for a moment. It was a night of storytelling and friendship and with that thought calming my mind, I went ahead to introduce the first speaker Berhanu from Ethiopia. All the speakers told their stories in their native languages and they had narrators, from AHNA’s receiving community, who read translations of their stories in English.

Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” Berhanu’s story is one of those that lends Twain’s words a whole lot of credibility. Berhanu spoke in Amharic and told a story of a journey so long and complex all the way from Ethiopia to South Africa before finally making it to the United States almost 20 years later. As the tales continued, the audience would find the truth of Twain’s words proven again and again.

Nayomi filled the room with warm laughter when she talked about her amazement at the fact that Americans had such huge refrigerators. Nayomi, who comes from the small island country of Sri Lanka was used to compact, economical fridges. She found the typical American fridge to be more shocking than the six lane highways or huge New York city skyscrapers.

As the speakers wove their stories in beautiful foreign tongues, I looked around the room and felt people loosening up, getting more and more comfortable with these exotic foreigners telling their tales. People in the audience began to realize that while the stories were being told in a foreign tongue that was really the only thing that made them foreign. People could relate to the stories, empathize with them, and perhaps even shake their heads in absolute agreement.

The power of storytelling was beginning to get a hold of the room as strangers settled in to listen to these interesting, tough, resilient, phenomenal people who the audience felt they knew a little more intimately as they shared their most personal thoughts and experiences.

There were a total of seven speakers with two youths from the Journalism and Media Academy. In addition to Berhanu and Nayomi, there was Marcos from Peru who told a very loving and admiring story of the struggles his wife, Lar Pwe Paw, a Karen refugee went through before coming to the United States.

Roselin also told her story of being a Karen refugee in Thailand. She shared her innermost fears and her struggles. The audience went on an emotional roller coaster ride as stories switched from unimaginably painful to absolute hilarity. Seventeen year old Deborah told of her difficulty in what should be a most simple matter – sharing an informal greeting. She learned the hard way that Americans don’t greet each others as Haitians do, with one or two kisses on the cheeks when she spent a few good minutes with her lips puckered up attempting to warmly greet her new American neighbor and schoolmate.

We held the storytelling event on June 20th to commemorate World Refugee Day, and I cannot think of a better way to have observed the day than to hear from the refugees and immigrants themselves who make our neighborhoods such vibrant, lively places in which to live and work.  There were stories from Ethiopia, Burma, Nepal, Haiti, Sri-Lanka, Cote D’Ivoire and Peru.

The diversity of Asylum Hill was well reflected in the diversity of the speakers. The event came to a close, with an action packed tale of trials and triumphs by Georges Annan Kingsley of Cote D’Ivoire, who,  while suffering from kidney failure, had to be smuggled into Ghana to receive urgent medical treatment. His story had a very happy ending as his wife and son joined him in the United States just a few day prior to the event. As he introduced them on stage, the whole room stood up and burst into applause. I did catch more than a few people wiping away tears that betrayed their very best efforts to keep them from falling.

Jyotsna Khattri-Chettri is from Nepal and moved to Connecticut in 2003. She has completed a  Bachelors in Political Science from the University of Connecticut and is currently pursuing a Masters in International Studies from CCSU. She also serves in the Connecticut Army National Guard as a Broadcast Journalist.

Congrats to HPL Youth Services Manager Lina Osha-Williams, honored as an Immigrant of the Year at last week’s Connecticut Immigrant Day ceremony at the state capitol! Her dedication to serving the Hartford community is truly inspiring, andwe’re so proud to have her on our team.

Also honored at the ceremony: our Adult Learning Department staff, for their implementation of We Belong Here Hartford, a program that provides key support to immigrants new to America by linking them to programs and services available at both the Library and throughout the region.

Way to go, HPL!

In celebration of National Adoption month, USCIS held a special adoption ceremony at the State Capitol on November 18th to honor the citizenship of 14 adopted children from Connecticut. The children, aged 2 to 12, come from countries as far away as China, Brazil, Haiti, India, Ghana and Russia. Guests were are entertained before the ceremony by a delightful clown, Valentine, who blew balloon animals for everyone. Even Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman joined in on the fun, playing limbo with a balloon stick and later, donning colorful patriotic balloon butterfly wings. She later congratulated the small crowd, telling the new young citizens, “You’re going to make this place the best place to live.” After hearing a stunning rendition of The National Anthem, U.S. Magistrate Donna Martinez, a mother of an adopted child (now grown) from Colombia, told her own story of her adoption journey. Today we celebrate another step in their journey. She commented that people often think that it is the children that are the lucky ones because they have been chosen, and though this is true she applauded the parents, reminded them that they  too “are the lucky ones.”

Full disclosure. I’m an adopted child. I came to this country from Taiwan when I was only a month old. I became a citizen when Jimmy Carter was President of the United States. I remember my parents brought me to a court house in Washington D.C. (we lived in Virginia at the time.) I remember the room filled with many people. My parents allowed me to stand on the chair, when the Pledge of Allegiance was said. I knew the Pledge because we said it in school. After that, I was told I was citizen, but I didn’t know what that meant. I told the story to a few children I saw at the ceremony. I told them how lucky they were, and I congratulated the parents. It is always rewarding to see Naturalization ceremonies, but to see a ceremony for adopted children is particularly special and meaningful for me. Not only do these special children continue the diversity that makes up the fabric of this nation, they validate reasons for which we decide to come to this country- for freedom, hope, and opportunity. Where would I be if I had not been adopted? Where would these little children be? Still in the orphanages for which they had been found? Celebrate National Adoption month and honor all the mothers and fathers for their strength and courage to follow their hearts and bring another child into their lives.

In celebration of National Adoption month, USCIS held a special adoption ceremony at the State Capitol on November 18th to celebrate the citizenship of 14 adopted children from Connecticut. The children, aged 2 to 12, come from countries as far away as China, Brazil, Haiti, India, Ghana and Russia. Guests were are entertained before the ceremony by a delightful clown, Valentine, who blew balloon animals for everyone. Even Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman joined in on the fun, playing limbo with a balloon stick and later, donning colorful patriotic balloon butterfly wings. She later congratulated the small crowd, telling the new young citizens, “You’re going to make this place the best place to live.” Afterwards, U.S. Magistrate Donna Martinez, a mother of an adopted child (now grown) from Colombia, told her own story of her adoption journey. Today we celebrate another step in their journey. She commented that people often think that it is the children that are the lucky ones because they have been chosen, and though this is true she applauded the parents, reminded them that they  too “are the lucky ones.”

Full disclosure. I’m an adopted child. I came to this country from Taiwan when I was only a month old. I became a citizen when Jimmy Carter was President of the United States. I remember my parents brought me to a court house in Washington D.C. (we lived in Virginia at the time.) I remember the room filled with many people. My parents allowed me to stand on the chair, when the Pledge of Allegiance was said. I knew the Pledge because we said it in school. After that, I was told I was citizen, but I didn’t know what that meant. I told the story to a few children I saw at the ceremony. I told them how lucky they were, and I congratulated the parents. It is always rewarding to see Naturalization ceremonies, but to see a ceremony for adopted children is particularly special and meaningful for me. Not only do these special children continue the diversity that makes up the fabric of this nation, they validate reasons for which we decide to come to this country- for freedom, hope, and opportunity. Where would I be if I had not been adopted? Where would these little children be? Still in the orphanages for which they had been found? Celebrate National Adoption month and honor all the mothers and fathers for their strength and courage to follow their hearts and bring another child into their lives.

September 17th is Citizenship Day! We’re celebrating with thirty candidates who will become citizens of the United States in a naturalization ceremony at Hartford City Hall. We’re also celebrating National Welcoming Week (Sept 15-22), a week where we all highlight the contributions made in our communities by immigrants.

All are welcome to attend the ceremony and witness this momentous occasion, from 11:45 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. on September 17th in the Atrium of Hartford City Hall, 550 Main Street.

Citizenship Ceremony at HPL, April 2013

Music and remarks will be part of the agenda as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services presents 30 candidates for U.S. citizenship. The Honorable Donna F. Martinez, United States Magistrate Judge, will administer the Oath of Allegiance to America’s newest citizens, who hail from many countries.

HPL CEO Matthew K. Poland will provide the Naturalization Ceremony’s opening remarks, while keynote remarks will be made by the Honorable Pedro Segarra, Mayor of Hartford.

Special elements of the September 17 ceremony also will include a presentation of the nation’s colors by the First Company Governor’s Foot Guard; students of the Library’s citizenship education program leading the Pledge of Allegiance; and performances by Tom Rotchford and The Mariachi Band / Los Tovardores de America.

For further information please contact naficy@hplct.org Phone: 860-695-6334

This summer our ESL/Citizenship classes took another trip, this time to Boston, MA. Here we explored the Freedom Trail, USS Constitution, and Quincy Market. We took a guided walking tour along the Freedom Trail. We saw the Old South Meeting House, Old State House and the site of the Boston Massacre. We also explored the USS Constitution. The USS Constitution is the world’s oldest naval vessel afloat. Students were in awe to see this. For many, it was their first time being on a ship like this. They did not realize these ships still existed. It was truly a new experience for them. At Quincy Market the students were met with the sights, sounds and scents of Boston. Food, shops and street performers were all around. Our students grabbed some food and watched the entertainment of street performers while we waited for our tour to begin. At the very end of our outing mother nature decided it was time for a downpour. Despite the rain, the students had an amazing time, enjoyed every minute and were very grateful.

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