The American Place

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!”

We are thrilled to announce that HPL has received recognition and accreditation from the United States Department of Justice Bureau of Immigrant Appeals (BIA) which will enable it to expand immigrants’ access to critical information and services in their path  to Citizenship.  We are the first public library in the nation to receive this accreditation.

The Library’s The American Place (TAP) program has been in the forefront of welcoming new arrivals and facilitating their integration into the broader community since 2000 and is recognized nationally as a best practice. Although the program offers a comprehensive range of services it refers immigrants to area not-for-profit agencies recognized by the Bureau of Immigration Appeals for legal consultation. Now the Library, a long-standing resource to the immigrant community, is certified to offer these services directly. These expanded services are expected to be offered in January 2014.

An estimated 300 immigrants a month come to the Library to seek online access and assistance navigating the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services’ (USCIS) portal. The Library’s standing in the community as a center for immigrant educational services and computer access, along with its proximity to the USCIS Immigration Services field office (located across the street) are contributing factors to the steady flow of immigrants to the Library.

Looking towards the future and the strong possibility that comprehensive immigration reform will be passed, this demand is expected to increase significantly. “As a trusted source of information, as a center for technology and, a primary portal for immigrants – TAP will be more effective and efficient now that the immigrant needs will be met via a one-stop model”, said Homa Naficy, chief adult learning officer and director of The American Place.

For more information on our immigration and citizenship services, visit our website. And make sure you check out The American Place blog for stories on trips they have taken, and Reflections from a Cultural Navigator!

Press on HPL’s accreditation:

Library Journal – Hartford Public Library Nation’s First to Be Certified by Bureau of Immigrant Appeals
ThinkProgress – Booked For Appointments: First Library Gets Certified To Help Immigrants Navigate The Legal System

 

We have an amazing staff here at the library, and now we’re not the only ones who know it! The White House is honoring a handful of librarians from around the country as “Champions of Change”; recognizing people who are doing great work in their communities. She is being honored with 11 other museum and library workers from around the country.

Homa is our Chief Adult Education Officer, and works with patrons through The American Place to find ESL and citizenship classes, as well as help immigrants become settled in our community. She works tirelessly with the adults to visit the library to provide programming that reflects the Hartford community as a whole.

“The one thing that all immigrants have in common are those American values — we all have the same political values of freedom, and we can bring people together through that shared culture,” Naficy said [Hartford Courant].

“Homa Naficy is a superstar to the population she serves, because she is tireless in creating opportunities that help immigrants become acclimated to their new home.” – CEO Matt Poland

We’re thrilled for Homa and will share updates from the event at the White House!

 

UPDATE 6/11:

Homa at the White House!

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