CENTER FOR NEW AMERICANS
Hope Wallis, Program Director
The mission of the Center for New Americans is four-fold. We:
- Assist refugees in beginning new lives in America
- Work as a resource and cultural center for the Southeast Asian population in our community
- Assist our communities in being a place of welcome for refugees and immigrants
- Help refugees and immigrants in developing their own self-help skills, projects, and associations
What is the “essence” of our work?
The Center for New Americans is a safe and welcoming place for refugee and legal immigrant individuals and families whom we embrace as our neighbors and help establish new lives in our community. Our caseworkers assist clients with a variety of needs such as arranging for housing, utilities, furnishings, and food; enrolling adults in English learning classes and children in school; ensuring that necessary medical care is received; finding employment; and providing help understanding U.S. culture. Beyond this aspect of the resettlement process, we assist groups in developing their own self-help associations and in the fulfillment of projects of their choosing. In 2005, we worked with four communities in this capacity: Vietnamese, Somali Bantu, Sudanese, and Bosnian.
The Center also offers English as a Second Language courses, sewing and cooking classes, and a variety of cultural and social events, including a recent refugee art exhibit. We offer a number of services to the Southeast Asian community including personal finance education and counseling, first time homebuyer education, interpretation and translation, referrals and help utilizing available mainstream community services, senior assistance and activities, and youth activities.
Another important aspect of our work is to provide opportunities for faith groups and civic groups to sponsor refugee families, as well as offer public education about refugees and immigration.
Who do we serve?
The Center serves refugees and legal immigrants and those who work with and come in contact with them. A refugee is someone who has proved to both the United Nations (UN) and the United States Department of Homeland Security that they have experienced life threatening or nearly life threatening persecution in their home country or face a credible fear of experiencing such persecution if they return to their home country because of their national origin, religion, ethnicity, political opinions, or membership in particular social groups. An immigrant is someone who is not a US citizen or national, but has been admitted legally to the United States for longer than a temporary stay. The countries from which we are currently receiving refugees are: Sudan, Somalia, Liberia, Burma, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Cuba, Vietnam, Columbia, Congo D.R., Burundi, and Ethiopia.
Some facts and figures about refugees: There are over 11 million refugees worldwide, as well as an additional 22 million displaced people. Last federal fiscal year, the US agreed to this year resettle 70,000 refugees, but only resettled about 55,000. Resettlement is a last resort solution for refugees in the opinion of the US and the UN. The conditions in which refugees wait for solutions are extremely poor, often times appalling, as well as lengthy (they often wait for many years). In Onondaga County, the 2000 census estimated the population of foreign born to be 26,000. At least 50% of these are immigrants.
How long has the program been in existence?
The Southeast Asian Program (est. 1995) and Refugee Resettlement Program (est. 1981) of the IRC came together in December of 2005 to form the Center for New Americans. The opening of the Center was a major undertaking and was established only with the generous help and support of several governmental, local foundation, and corporate grants which provided funding for necessary renovations and refurbishment of the space on Syracuse’s northside.
How many clients have been served by the program?
Over 8,000 refugees have been resettled by our agency in the last 25 years. In 2005, we assisted 358 people in initial six month resettlement, and an additional 230 in post six month resettlement work. Over 1,100 Southeast Asians were served by the Southeast Asian Program in 2005.
How does Center for New Americans make a difference in our community?
Our program impacts Central New York in many important ways. We provide hard working men and women to contribute to our local economy. We add new life and culture to an area that has been losing population, according to the census. We give our community the opportunity to respond directly to victims of war, genocide, and global violence, as well as to build relationships and learn from people of many different nations, religions, and ethnicities. With this, we also increase the diversity and quantity of cultural and artistic expression in our community.
How does Center for New American’s work fulfill the mission of the IRC?
The Center demonstrates deep respect for the refugees and immigrants we serve, and the many people we interact with on their behalf. We also strive to foster the autonomy of our clients, while building warm and professional relationships with them. We believe that integrating these core values into our services affirms the dignity of all those we work with, which is central to IRC’s overall mission.