On May 18, the English-Speaking Union Andrew Romay New Immigrant Center celebrated its third year with a graduation ceremony attended by more than 100 graduates, their family and guests, and ESU teachers and volunteer tutors. The Open Society Foundations, a major supporter of the program, hosted the event at their offices in New York City.
The Andrew Romay New Immigrant Center (ARNIC), named for the program's key visionary and supporter, seeks to improve the lives of recent immigrants by providing resources and information to help them improve their English skills, assistance in exploring work and study opportunities, networking, and acquiring cultural fluency so that they may participate fully in American society. Launched in January 2013, the ARNIC Program has served more than 500 new Americans.
Mr. George Irish, Eastern Director of the Hearst Foundations, shown above with ESU Executive Director Christopher Broadwell, welcomed the students with words of congratulations, followed by Andrew Romay. Mr. Romay spoke of his experience as a new immigrant in the United States, recounting the difficulties he had navigating the culture and society in America to access services, locate information about colleges, housing, legal and financial assistance, meeting Americans and making friends. He emphasized ARNIC's unique program component of pairing newcomers with native speakers for conversational practice and cultural exchange – an invaluable support to new Americans and one from which he could have benefitted sixty years ago.
Falonne Beljuby Billy Dembi, a 2016 ARNIC graduate from the Republic of Congo, spoke on behalf of her fellow graduates, thanking Andrew Romay, the teachers, and volunteers for their continuous support and encouragement. "This is a brilliant idea to create this program and help new immigrants from all over the world. Mr. Romay planted these seeds, watered us, and today can see the fruit of his labor! We are the fruit of this program that helps immigrants and refugees like me to find friends, learn English, and feel more confident in our new country." She also shared her own moving experience of encountering an "American Angel" in the form of a kind stranger who brought her hot tea every day as she held up a sign advertising psychic services in the cold weather. Falonne no longer has to battle the elements and has found work as a bookkeeper. She reminded graduates of the value of being part of the ARNIC family. "Many of us got good jobs and in several years you and I will be able to give back and support new immigrants who will arrive and join ARNIC."
Popular comedian, actor, and writer, Hasan Minhaj, who is a senior correspondent on the Emmy and Peabody award-winning program The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, delivered the keynote address. Hasan joked about being star struck when he was hired by Jon Stewart and the humorous aspects of the immigrant experience when referring to his own parents from India. Through his unique and engaging style of humor Minhaj encouraged these new immigrants to reach for the American Dream.
Andrew Romay; the Open Society Foundations; the Hearst Foundation, Inc.; and the Elizabeth and Stanley DeForest Scott Foundation provide current operating support for ARNIC.