English in Action: The English-Speaking Union

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Congratulations ARNIC Class of 2018

Class of 2018 ARNIC Graduates

Graduation is a memorable moment for all students, but for the 166 graduates from the Andrew Romay New Immigrant Center (ARNIC) on May 31, this achievement was especially significant. ARNIC graduates are unique in that they are all new immigrants who attended a free, yearlong scholarship program through English in Action. ARNIC supports new immigrants who are creating new lives in the US by providing them English language courses, professional development workshops and cultural events.

On May 31, 2018 ARNIC hosted a graduation ceremony for students, teachers, supporters and elected officials at Fourth Universalist Society in New York. Following the ceremony, a benefit dinner supporting ARNIC raised more than $76,000 through the generosity of a matching challenge grant from the Marietta and Andrew Romay Foundation.

The English-Speaking Union of the United States Executive Director, Christopher Broadwell, and Board Chair, Dr. Paul Beresford-Hill welcomed the graduates and guests. Rev. Schuyler Vogel, Senior Minister, Fourth Universalist Society of New York, and Helen Rosenthal, NYC Council Member from the 6th District, then spoke on the unique relationship and common values between the ARNIC and Fourth Universalist Society, who welcome immigrants and provide them with free support services.

During the welcoming reception, music was performed by PROSSPEKT, an electronic-synth pop band originally from Belarus. The band's two original members, Nikolay Znaharchuk and Olya Paliushik, both graduated from ARNIC in 2013.

Speaking on behalf of the graduating class, ARNIC graduates Niurka Melendez-Vasquez, an asylum seeker from Venezuela, and Dieudonné Ndje Bayi Seh, an immigrant from Cameroon, reflected on the challenges they faced when they first came to the US—from navigating the city to adjusting to the weather and new foods. However, the most significant challenge they both mentioned was the barrier created by their inability to speak English fluently.

For many new immigrants, language becomes a barrier that blocks them from achieving their highest potential. ARNIC strives to remove this barrier through education and cultural integration. By removing the language barrier, immigrants can make their dreams come true through hard work and determination. For them, America is still the land of opportunity.

The Andrew Romay New Immigrant Center (ARNIC) offers immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers a home-like setting where they can improve their English fluency, learn about American culture, network and find professional development opportunities as they build new lives in America. The center was founded in 2012 and named after the late Andrew Romay, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who immigrated to the US in 1956. ARNIC has empowered more than 1,000 newcomers from 92 countries to realize their dreams and make positive contributions to American society. 

Peter Frey, English-Speaking Union Board Member and Trustee of the Marietta and Andrew Romay Foundation, led a panel discussion titled "ARNIC: Empowering New Immigrants." The panel included ARNIC graduates Eliana Maria Félix Herrera, who came to the US from the Dominican Republic and hopes to continue her education in Speech Pathology, and Viktoriia (Vika) Sanzharevska from Ukraine, who came to the US without knowing any English and hopes to resume her career as a teacher in the US. Joining Viktoriia was her English in Action Conversations tutor, Margery Spagnoletti, a retired preschool teacher. Also on the panel were Laura V. Gonzalez-Murphy, Director, New York State Office for New Americans, and Jenifer Rajkumar, Director of Immigration Affairs and Special Counsel, NY Department of State, who spoke about New York's commitment to immigrants through public and private partnership programs.

Following the panel discussion, Anne Montesano, Executive Director of Immigrant Inclusion at the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, spoke of the city's efforts to support the 3.1 million immigrants who call New York City home.

The keynote commencement address was delivered by Dr. Jan Vilcek, Professor Emeritus and Research Professor at NYU Langone Medical Center. Dr. Vilcek and his wife Marica immigrated to the U.S. in 1965 from Slovakia (the former Czechoslovakia). Dr. Vilcek's research contributed to the development of Remicade®, a medication used for the treatment of chronic inflammatory disorders. In 2013, Dr. Vilcek received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Barack Obama.

Together with Marica, the Vilceks created the Vilcek Foundation whose mission is to raise public awareness and honor the contributions of immigrants to the sciences and the arts in the US. In speaking of his foundation, Dr. Vilcek said, "It's our way to say thank you to the country that welcomed us as penniless refugees more than a half century ago. We were greeted with open arms and shall forever remain grateful for the opportunities afforded to us in this country."

Commencement Speaker Quotes

Niurka Melendez-Vasquez
ARNIC Graduate

"Thanks to the ARNIC program, I have gained confidence and experience. Those keys I know will open doors to professional opportunities for me. As an immigrant, as a mother, as a woman in my 40s, as an asylum seeker—believe me, there are a lot of challenges I face, but that won't stop me from doing what I have to do today for me and my community."

Dieudonné Ndje Bayi Seh
ARNIC Graduate

"We're leaving [ARNIC] with heads stuffed with knowledge, hearts full of joy and bags packed with tricks to face whatever challenges may be in your way. I have a request though—please keep the door open to help and support those who are now just arriving but also for us graduates who may need some more help and encouragement along the way."

Eliana Maria Félix Herrera
ARNIC Graduate

"It was very hard for me to get used to everything—the language, the culture, the weather. I used to feel really, really lonely and alone. When I first got to ARNIC and the English-Speaking Union and I started attending classes, they made me feel like I had something important to do here. It gave me friends here. It gave me an 'American mom.'"

ARNIC Grad
Viktoriia (Vika) Sanzharevska
ARNIC Graduate

When I arrived here, I decided to learn English. ARNIC is like my home. It has a very good atmosphere with teachers and managers and leaders. My goal in the future is to be a teacher and speak English fluently.

EIA Tutor
Margery Spagnoletti
Tutor
English in Action Conversations

"Every week, their language gets better, their confidence increases. I'm so happy to be a part of that."

Dr. Jan Vilcek
Professor Emeritus and Research Professor
NYU Langone Medical Center

"This country owes its accomplishments in a large measure to the continuous contributions of waves of immigrants, including our graduates today. Congratulations to you, the graduates of the Andrew Romay New Immigrant Center at the English-Speaking Union. May this day mark the dawning of a great journey for you all."

Peter Frey
ESU Board Member
Marietta and Andrew Romay Foundation Trustee

"ARNIC is built on a very simple but powerful idea that wherever we come from, regardless of our differences, a shared language gives us common voice. Through cross cultural dialogue, we can build a more open, welcoming and sustainable community. This has never been more important than now."

Laura Gonzalez-Murphy
Laura V. Gonzalez-Murphy
Director
New York State Office for New Americans

"The value of learning the language is being able to integrate and most important to be able to participate in the community you're with, and that way feel a part of it."

Jenifer Rajkumar
Jenifer Rajkumar
Director of Immigration Affairs and Special Counsel
NY Department of State

"The Liberty Defense Project provides attorneys to immigrants who can't afford legal help. NY is the first state to implement this system.

Helen Rosenthal
New York City Council, 6th District

"It's not hyperbole to say that this program changes lives. As today's graduates carry on with their individual journeys, what they've learned here will ripple through our society: the compassion, the inclusiveness, the celebration of diversity."

Anne Montesano
Executive Director of Immigrant Inclusion
Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs

"Our mission is to promote the health and well-being of the city's 3.1 million immigrant New Yorkers. As a city, we encourage you to build your English language skills."

Rev. Schuyler Vogel
Senior Minister, Fourth Universalist Society of New York

"Our values are all about welcoming the stranger and making this country a more welcoming and inclusive place."

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