Few groups have been hit harder than immigrants by the national economic downturn. Thanks to a federal stimulus grant, the Center for New North Carolinians (CNNC) has been able to expand its support for this vulnerable group.
The CNNC's Community Collaborative has strengthened its existing Glen Haven and Avalon immigrant community development sites, where local service providers, community elders and leaders, AmeriCorps members and volunteers provide tutoring for children, computer classes, English lessons and other support.
The families we're working with are really suffering from a lack of available jobs, says Stephanie Baldwin, coordinator of the Community Collaborative, who earned a master's in social work from UNCG and N.C. A&T. Many have limited English proficiency, so that makes it harder for them to find work.
The immigrants served by the collaborative, most of whom are refugees, are trying to create a new life in the midst of the worst economy in decades. Some of those who had found work have had their hours cut or their job eliminated. For many of these families, even a small reduction in income can make it impossible to pay for the basics, things like food, rent, clothes, school supplies and bus fare. Minor problems snowball quickly.
The collaborative, with 15 AmeriCorps members and about 70 volunteers, assists with interpretation, connects residents with service agencies, tutors children after school and offers ESOL classes. It helps cultivate community gardens and organize dinners and meetings for problem solving and planning. Family support includes assigning AmeriCorps members and volunteers to immigrant families as First Friends.
True to its name, the collaborative is truly a team effort. UNCG's major partners include Guilford College and the African Services Coalition, among others, says Raleigh Bailey, director of the CNNC and a senior research scientist in HES.
The Community Collaborative expanded in June after receiving a $223,000 grant provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Leaders of the collaborative hope they will be able to continue the extra services after the one-year grant is finished.
Jobs are still difficult to find. The unemployment rate in North Carolina was 10.8 percent in September, up from 6.8 percent a year earlier. Bailey says the temporary lack of construction jobs and the loss of manufacturing in the Triad have made it much more difficult for immigrants to gain a toehold in the workforce.
Baldwin says she had no idea how diverse Guilford County is when she started her master's program. During that program, when she worked with Bailey at the center, she learned. About 60,000 people live in immigrant families or families that speak a language other than English at home.
There are more than 150 languages spoken by students in the Guilford County Schools. Slightly more than half of these ESOL students are Spanish speakers. The next most common languages are Vietnamese, Arabic, Hindu/Urdu, Korean, French, Lao, Rade, Khmer and Chinese.