Making Government Work

Neighborhood Centers Provide New Immigrants an Instant Community

May 22, 2014
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Neighborhood Centers Provide New Immigrants an Instant Community
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Assistance runs the gamut from banking, to after-school programs, and even English classes.

When moving to a new country, finding and gathering everything you need is a daunting, if not almost impossible, task. For immigrants that arrive in Texas, there’s a place that can help them with anything: Neighborhood Centers.

This nonprofit, which was founded in 1907, runs 74 centers in 60 Texas counties, offering everything a newcomer to America needs to get on his or her feet. According to the Associated Press, in 2012, Neighborhood Centers estimates that it helped 400,000 people. In Houston, it offers vital services to a city where 2.5 percent of all naturalized immigrants in America choose to make their homes, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Neighborhood Centers offer everything from after-school programs and fitness classes to job-search assistance, tax preparation and citizenship application help. One perennial favorite is its busy schedule of English classes, which include daytime courses to accommodate the needs of stay-at-home moms.

On the nonprofit’s Baker-Ripley campus in Houston sits the Promise Credit Union, which allows patrons to open bank accounts without Social Security cards or federal work permits — easing the immigrants’ distrust of financial institutions and giving them a safe place to store their money.

The nonprofit also runs a charter school and a welcome center that have been credited with revitalizing some low-income apartment complexes in southwest Houston. They run a thrift store — the Bumblebee Shop — serving as a classroom for patrons who want to find jobs in retail. Workers learn to handle the accounting, inventory, and work schedules. The shop sells items donated by the community, and it’s a good place for people to find affordable clothes for kids, too.

Neighborhood Centers host a knitting group that involves immigrant women in crafting scarves, hats, and other clothing and accessories that they can sell. One of the unifying themes of their programs? To help patrons find ways to make a living even though they don’t have a college degree or perfect English skills.

Often, immigrants start out receiving help from Neighborhood Centers, then return later on as volunteers to help the next wave of newcomers.

Bruce Katz, the vice president of the Brookings Institution, told Dug Begley of the Associated Press, “I think what places need is a vision. There is no lacking capital in the United States. None … What’s needed, and what (Neighborhood Centers) is doing, is putting vision to capital.”

MORE: It Wasn’t Easy to Welcome 25,000 Refugees, But Boy is This Town Glad it Did

 

 

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