NEW BEDFORD – The COVID-19 pandemic has brought some of the most difficult challenges the immigrant service center has ever faced, but Helena da Silva Hughes, who has just been appointed chief executive officer, says the he centre’s future has never been brighter.
âIt’s a really exciting time for the center,â said Hughes. âWe are growing in accordance with our strategic plan and the needs of the community. I now have a management team and staff that will allow me to spend more time promoting the immigrant agenda outside of the office without having to worry about day-to-day operations. My goal is to be really involved and to be the voice of the immigrant community not only at state level but also at federal level. “
Hughes, who has worked at the Immigrant Support Center since 1985 and was its executive director for about two decades, has been one of the region’s leading authorities on immigrant advocacy. She has appeared before legislative hearings and served on numerous boards of directors, but now she wants to take things up a notch.
Help during the pandemic:Immigrant Support Center offers Chromebooks to students
âWe have ties to the Biden administration and I think this is the perfect time for me to start really nurturing those relationships,â she said. “I have to tie it all together and make sure our immigrant communities are not left behind.”
Hughes said the narrative of the immigrant community must be changed as the new administration and Congress move towards creating a fairer, more humane and more functional immigration system.
“They [immigrants] contributed to American life and had a positive impact. Over the past four years, that has gotten lost in all the noise, âshe said. âWe need to be consistent with this narrative and I see my role as that of a messenger. I think it’s my responsibility to have a platform. I want to uplift the IAC and specifically uplift our community.
With four languages ââspoken fluently, 12 staff members and several volunteers, the center serves as a refuge for immigrants.
The type of assistance offered by IAC
Located at 58 Crapo St., New Bedford, the IAC currently serves 12,000 heads of households per year.
The range of services available to clients has grown exponentially, from case management and workforce preparation to citizenship orientation and English speaking other languages ââclasses. .
In the past 90 days, the center has responded to more than 10,000 calls.
Although initially it served primarily a Portuguese clientele, the center now serves a more diverse clientele – 40% Portuguese, 40% Hispanic, 10% Cape Verdean and 10% from other ethnic groups.
âThe center takes care of everything from translating mail to running English and civic education classes to helping families with immigration issues,â said Hughes. âThis organization is mission-oriented and it will always be mission-oriented. It’s about making sure that we have a team that represents the community we serve and that we have a leadership team that has the tools to grow. At the same time, we seem to be well connected to the people who help us grow. “
She said the strategic plan, which was first presented a few years ago, has been crucial in the growth of the center.
Ana de Melo, who served as Office Manager until recently, is the new Director of Operations and is responsible for overseeing staff and day-to-day operations.
The hiring of a development manager also provided vital funding to strengthen the centre’s capacity to meet unprecedented demand for services.
âThe strategic plan gave me a lot of hope,â she said. âI’m really excited about all of this because I don’t have to worry about what will happen to the Immigrant Support Center. I consider this growth to be part of the legacy because my fear has always been that if I ever left the center, it would not be sustainable. And I always wanted this organization to be there for many years to come for the new wave of immigrants.
What the new office offers
After facing space constraints for several years, the center has moved from the first to the second floor to extensive refurbished facilities that allow for future expansion.
âWe moved here last year, but due to COVID we just opened the new office to the public on July 1. We are really excited. It is deserving. Our immigrant community deserves a great place to come for services.
The new facilities also include a spacious computer room that will be used by the Citizenship and Workforce Preparation Program to help immigrants prepare for the U.S. citizenship test and provide them with the opportunity to develop computer skills. based on employment.
Through a partnership, MassHire will provide classroom-based induction, assessment and job search training. The laboratory is equipped with around twenty donated laptops.
âWe want to make sure they have these tools so people don’t have to rely on interpreters, so they can advocate for their children and progress in their workplace,â said Hughes.
Closing of the 50th anniversary
The changes could come at a better time as the center will celebrate its 50th anniversary in November. Due to COVID, plans for a celebration are still on hold.
âWe’re going to celebrate this important milestone, but it will be something small,â said Hughes. âAll kinds of options are on the table. We will know more after our annual meeting.
This meeting will also host a diverse board of directors.
âWe have some amazing board members coming in,â said Hughes. âWe have always had a very immigrant-focused board of directors. Now the board of directors is more diverse. We have more than one mix. It’s about looking at the talent we bring in to make the center grow.
Interrupted due to the pandemic, some of the past activities and events are slowly starting to be reintroduced into the daily life of the center.
The senior group is expected to resume its meeting on Tuesday this month and the center will hold a naturalization ceremony on August 20. Manuel Neto, one of the founders of the center, will address new citizens.
âWe’re looking at having 25 to 30 people become US citizens here,â Hughes said. “Mr. Neto will be our keynote speaker because not only is he the founding father of the center, but he understands the challenges of the immigrant community. He understands and at the same time he is a former city councilor and a successful businessman in our community. âHe comes back to this story I told you about.
But despite all the upgrades and innovation at the center, Hughes said there are some things that should never change.
“It’s so important that we should never forget where we came from, even as the IAC grows,” said Hughes, who came to this country from Madeira Island at the age of 10. “One important thing is that whoever runs this organization is an immigrant because you walked in their [clientsâ] shoes. It’s in your blood and in your soul, and you live it every day. I don’t care what country, but it must be run by an immigrant.
For more information on the Immigrant Assistance Center, call 508-996-8113 or visit immigrantsassistancecenter.org