Needham Community Council's Sandy Robinson to Speak at Immigration Public Forum, Nov. 29
For years, immigration rights have been in the national headlines, but here in Needham there is also a reason to think, and talk, about how immigration issues affect our community. Needham residents will have a chance to do just that on Thursday, November 29th when “Immigration: Why Should Our Community Care?” will be presented from 7:30 – 9:30 pm at the Broadmeadow School. The program is co-sponsored by the Needham Area Immigration Justice Task Force and the League of Women Voters of Needham with invited speakers Eva Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition; Sandy Robinson, Executive Director of the Needham Community Council; and two students from the Student Immigrant Movement [SIM].
The Needham Community Council offers free English as a 2nd Language [ESL] tutoring for adults. Robinson notes that children learn English in school, but adults often have fewer options. Trained volunteer tutors are paired with students interested in improving their English; they may work 1 on 1 and/or be part of a conversation group and typically meet once a week. In the past 8 years that Robinson has been the Council’s Executive Director she has seen a significant increase in requests from immigrant families, approximately 10% per year. The Council began a single conversation group several years and ago and now offers 5 groups each week. Robinson attributes this increase to both the development of new programs as well as the Council’s improved outreach to promote their programs. The ESL Program is not based on financial need. Robinson points out, however, that “need” takes on a complex definition when considered in the context of the Needham community. “People have lots of needs,” says Robinson, “This includes loneliness and isolation, and thus the Council’s role in addressing these needs is important."
In addition to their ESL Program the Council provides a food pantry for Needham residents with financial limitations, and Robinson explained that quite a few of the immigrant families in Needham are or have been customers of the food pantry. She notes that some families arrive in Needham with very few resources and need support for a long time, while others may come with education and a professional background but find themselves either unemployed or underemployed - they utilize the food pantry until they can improve their position and make a living wage.
At the start of the Council’s ESL program, Robinson notes that Needham’s immigrant population was mostly Russian. “Now we are seeing families from all over the world…we are seeing many Asian families with elders who are arriving to join their previously established families, and we have long-time residents with children who have lived or worked abroad, met and married someone, and returned with them to Needham.”
Robinson says that the world has become a smaller place. Without the ability to communicate it is hard for new immigrants to become part of a group, to food shop, to be part of the community. “My aim” says Robinson “is to be sure that people throughout our community are part of it, are treated with dignity, and able to get the basic services that everyone needs. We meet people on a human level. And, we, in turn, all benefit from the many riches brought to our community by immigrant families – music, art and many other skill sets.
Attend the public forum on November 29th to hear more and to participate in an audience question-answer session.