Astoria-based nonprofit launches ‘Learning for Life’ fund-raiser

Astoria-based nonprofit launches ‘Learning for Life’ fund-raiser
By Naeisha Rose

To help more immigrant students assimilate in the United States while maintaining their cultural identity and become successful in school, the Center for the Integration of New Americans is expanding its Astoria-based elementary after-school program for foreign and refugee children by launching a “Learning for Life” fund-raiser.

The Center for the Integration of New Americans is a nonprofit that was established in 2006 by Emira Habiby Brown, a Palestinian refugee , to help immigrants integrate into American society and become socially and economically sufficient, according to the organization’s website.

CIANA mostly focuses on integrating immigrants from highly traditional societies from the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America and southern Asia, according to spokeswoman Maria Eliades.

The organization, which is located in at 31-09 Newton Ave. in Astoria, provides Adult ESL classes, legal services, civics classes, citizenship workshops, a middle-school, after-school program and the very popular immigrant elementary after-school program it is trying to raise $10,000 for by June 27, according to Program and Administrative Manager Kylen Button.

The Astoria-based tutoring program started in 2012 and wants to serve students from all five boroughs, but because it is hard to reach on public transportation it currently serves 20 students from Queens twice a week, according to Button.

“The students are primarily from Long Island City, Astoria, and a few are from Jackson Heights,” said Button. “We would like to double the amount of students and add more tutoring dates.”

The program only serves students on from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but the organization hopes that it will raise enough money to also be open on Mondays and Wednesdays, too, according to Button.

“That will be ideal, because we have a long list of students who want to join the program,” said Button.

The organization, which has one volunteer tutoring one student, wants to add at least another 20 volunteers for additional students, if not more and hire a program manager to bring more structure to the initiative.

“Ideally we would like to have our own learning center where we dedicate staff and volunteers just to this program in a different location that is bigger than our office space right now…but our immediate goal is to expand with more days,” said Button. “We also want someone who has experience working with children in a teaching capacity and developing lesson plans,” said the administrator, who is volunteering her time to register students and take attendance.

The program manager role will also be administrative, involve skill-building and require the leader to design activities for the children when they do not have homework, said Button.

“We want someone who will be able to focus all their time on this program,” said Button.

The volunteers speak the native languages of the students, according to Eliades, and mostly focus on subjects like reading, math and English.

“The predominant languages are Arabic, Spanish and Bengali,” said Eliades. “We are currently getting these books…children’s books that celebrate their various backgrounds in English.”

The books are from Scholastic, Putnam and a local Astoria bookstore, according to Eliades and Button.

The students who come to the program after struggling in school have their academic progress measured throughout the semester, said Button. The tutors take daily notes on the students’ comprehension skills and they interact with their teachers to see if there are any marked improvements in their report card.

At the moment the program has raised $3,705, according to the CIANA website.

“Sometimes they become isolated because they don’t know English as well as the other students in their class,” said Button. “Being able to enhance their skills so that they can better communicate with their peers is essential and it is also a way for immigrant children to have a group of friends when they are isolated, but don’t know how to vocalize that. I think they enjoy coming here because all their other friends who are going through a similar struggle are here.”

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.