One of the biggest challenges faced by immigrants when they arrive in the United States is learning how to navigate bureaucracy; every country has a different way of doing things. For example, for some immigrants, setting up a business in their country is as simple as setting up a table on a street corner, while in the US there are many legal steps that need to be taken before one can be “Open For Business.”
Lack of knowledge on how to properly start a business can do away with a family’s life savings or even worse, lead to serious legal troubles. To address this, one of the services offered at Catholic Charities in Tompkins are workshops, such as ‘How To Start A Small Business,” aimed specifically towards Ithaca’s immigrant community.
Last week we hosted a Workshop for Immigrant Entrepreneurs at our ONA Opportunity Center. This workshop was free of charge for anyone in the community interested in starting a local business. As part of the Office For New Americans grant we are able to offer workshops four times a year to any members of the immigrant community who want to learn the first steps in starting a sound business in the United States. In collaboration with the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program (EAP), and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) we facilitated a two hour session where six of our clients where able to learn and ask questions regarding their specific entrpreneurial interests and needs.
The participants at the workshop came from four different countries: South Korea, Nigeria, China and Brazil. Their business interests ranged from business consultancy, to opening a Latin Cuisine restaurant to a non-profit sports organization. During the workshop presenters Darlene Kanuk (EAP) and Ginny Thompson (SBDC) covered a wide range of topics, and answered questions from our participants.
Once the workshop finalized we informed the participants that as part of the services available in the community an SBDC Bussines Advisor, Ken Homer, offers free services twice a month form the Ithaca Chamber of Commerce for entrepreneurs in all stages of setting up a business. We provided them with Ken’s contact information and offered to help them set up appointments when they are ready to take a more solid step towards business ownership.
These workshops are of great help to immigrant entrepreneurs and we hope to keep offering them covering topics and issues that are of interest to entrepreneurs living in our area. The next workshop will be this coming September 9th from 9:00-11:00AM. Darlene and Ginny will be joining us again to discuss the basics of starting a business. For more information please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to Catholic Charities’ Immigrant Services Program’s blog. We started this blog to provide insight into the services and programming we offer to Ithaca’s immigrant community and to acquaint readers with our staff and the immigrant clients we serve. We also want a platform where we can have a discourse so when there are changes in immigration law they can be examined and considered. Additionally, we want a place where we can keep interested parties in the community abreast on Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) as it unfolds. We are gearing up our program for when CIR occurs and this is something where stakeholders and advocates in the community will need to work side-by-side in order to ensure immigrants have access to competent, pro bono and/or low cost services in order to get on the path to legalization. Part of keeping Ithaca a relatively diverse city depends on ensuring its immigrant population can access quality services that meet its unique needs. We are hoping this blog will convey the part ISP is playing in order to ensure this happens.
As we embark on 2014, we’d like to use this first blog entry to look back at 2013 and acknowledge we had a lot of notable moments and highpoints we would like to share. Highlights from this past year include witnessing approximately 75 of our clients become sworn-in as US citizens at ceremonies held in Ithaca, Cortland, and Syracuse. Also notable, was assisting many of our clients (who have limited English proficiency and education) to find employment, and expanding our services to include technology support and basic computer skills classes at our Office for New American’s (ONA) Opportunity Center. We were also very fortunate to be able to tap into the talents of several Ithaca College students who interned with us throughout the year.
In 2013, ISP was able to offer free legal immigration and citizenship clinics throughout the year as a result of the ONA grant. Fortunately, this is a three-year grant that will be continued through 2015. Gary Liao, an immigration attorney from Buffalo’s Journey’s End, provided free legal consultations to our clients on a monthly basis. Another pro bono legal service offered by ISP was assisting Ithaca’s refugee community adjust their immigration status from refugees to legal permanent residents (a.k.a. green card holders). The majority of refugees resettling into Ithaca at this time originally came from Burma and sought refuge in camps located at the Thai/Burmese border.
This past year’s accomplishments also include the support we have been providing to immigrant entrepreneurs in Tompkins County. We offered four workshops in the ONA Center that were geared toward immigrants who currently own small business or those who were interested in starting a business. Our first workshop was designed to teach current business owners – all who were restaurant owners – how to incorporate social media in their marketing strategies. Check out Facebook for some of the sites discussed during the workshop – Tibetan Momo Bar, Pizza Aroma, and Jalapeno’s Mexican Grill (and “like” them).
Last fall, Laura Rodriguez, the ISP program coordinator, saw a gap in our job development services when she realized some of the clients she was assisting did not know how to manage their email accounts and it was affecting their ability to communicate with employers. This was the catalyst for her to conceptualize and implement computer classes for those clients who had limited English proficiency. She, Anthony, and one of our interns, Sarah, teamed up to teach these classes in the ONA Center. These classes have turned out to be very popular – we originally began offering two sessions on Fridays, and now offer 4 sessions on Thursdays and Fridays.
We also took great strides in creating services incorporating technology support for the immigrants who come to us for services. We were able to purchase 20 laptops through the ONA grant, and are using them at TST BOCES adult ESL classes, Tompkins Learning Partners, and at the ONA Center, to enhance the English language classes, as well as further developing other skills such as having better proficiency in Microsoft Office. Anthony Paolangeli, our data entry specialist, spends time every week with the BOCES ESL students teaching them computer basics, internet safety, and familiarizing them with computer-based English learning software, such as Rosetta-Stone. He is also teaching students about passwords, Skype, email, internet etiquette and safety – all of those things many people take for granted, but may be quite daunting if you are a beginning English learner.
Immigrant communities are very unique and their needs can vary from city to city depending on many dynamics. Our staff is very dedicated to evolve our services to meet the needs of Ithacan immigrants. Incorporating technology into our services was just one example of our willingness to assess our services, and shape them to meet the needs of the community we serve. As stated above, they have very unique needs, and it is our hope to create a discourse where we can discuss those needs, our efforts to meet them and other relevant topics, such as CIR, which affects all of us.
Thanks for stopping by our blog – we hope you return and become a part of our discussion on immigrant issues in Ithaca.
Sue, Laura and Anthony