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Programs launched to fund immigrant groups

To better serve Boston’s growing immigrant population, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh is launching the Capacity Building Initiative to sustain struggling organizations that help immigrants in the city.

The Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians announced Wednesday the implementation phase of CBI in partnership with the Haiti Fund at the Boston Foundation. The initiative, which expands the resources of nine nonprofit organizations in Boston, receives funding from a private-public partnership.

“These organizations are really the first tool for most new immigrants in the Boston community,” said Pierre-André Noel, director of the Haiti Fund. “It’s of utmost importance that these organizations are able to sustain themselves and for us to see how we can support them. By strengthening immigrant organizations…[we] are making the whole city stronger.”

The nine participating organizations are A Better Tomorrow Services Inc., Brazilian Women’s Group, Cape Verdean Community Unido, Greater Boston Nazarene Compassionate Center, La Alianza Hispana, Somali Development Center, South Shore Haitians United for Progress, Vietnamese American Civic Association and Youth and Family Enrichment Services Inc.

Walsh said it is important for the initiative to provide services for the growing immigrant population in Boston, which is at almost 16,000, according to the Wednesday release.

“As footholds in the communities they serve, [these organizations] work across cultural groups to ensure that all immigrants are able to fully participate in the civic and economic life of their neighborhood,” he said in the release.

Alejandra St. Guillen, director of the Office of New Bostonians, said these organizations are united by their service to new immigrants in Boston.

“What they all have in common is that they work within the immigrant community and are facing a challenge in their sustainability,” she said. “So their funding has either dropped significantly over the past few years or they haven’t been growing at a rate that would meet the demand of the people they serve.”

CBI focuses on maximizing the use of resources and building skills within these organizations, rather than simply allocating more resources. The main challenges to sustainability that the initiative hopes to ameliorate are funding and leadership development, St. Guillen said.

“What we’re hoping is that within a year, we’ll see these organizations with significantly stronger boards, more diversified funding and confidence,” she said. “Two very important things came up across the board. One is access to funding … everything from diversifying funding, to [building] a strong portfolio so you’re not dependent on one or two foundations. The other component is [building] a strong and effective board.”

Emmanuel Exilhomme, the founder and executive director of A Better Tomorrow Services, explained how organizations such as his assist immigrants.

“We help immigrants to understand the American culture so that they can transition to the American culture in the workplace,” he said. “We encourage them to work since it promotes personal growth, to become lifelong learners with marketable skills and [become] civically engagemed.”

As laudable as these goals are, Exilhomme said there are not enough staff and board members to adequately implement the mission of A Better Tomorrow Services, making meeting these goals difficult.

Several residents said they are grateful for any attention given to minorities within the Boston community.

“I can see how it would be scary coming to live in a foreign country,” said Jackie Marshall, 27, of Allston. “I would definitely be grateful for any programs to help me through that, so it’s good Boston is providing those things for immigrants.”

Philip Assanti, 67, of Back Bay, the son of Italian immigrants, said these programs are a huge improvement to what previously would have been a difficult transition.

“My parents came from Italy and they didn’t have programs like these to help them,” he said. “They had to struggle through it all on their own. People should be very grateful for help like this and it deserves funding.”

Mark Bergeson, 55, of Boston, said he knows how it feels to be an outsider in a foreign country and he would have loved to have access to similar programs.

“I had to live in Europe for my work for a while,” he said. “It definitely took a lot of getting used to and I never really felt like it was my home. It would have been great to have a program that consolidated information about the new country and gave easy access to that information.”

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