By Susan Stetson Clarke
I met Suni Ton, native of Vietnam, when she was doing my nails two years ago in North Adams. She told me she was going to classes at Berkshire Community College and struggling with English. I said, “Maybe I can help.” That conversation began an experience that has given me great personal satisfaction. In our sessions, Suni quickly earned my great admiration with her retentive mind and dedicated concentration on her academic work. We began with pronunciations and grammar, then extended our work to rehearsing oral presentations for school classes (speak slowly, loudly and use words easy to pronounce), and to introducing her to resources in the community (for an environmental studies class, Hopkins Forest and the Rural Lands Foundation). Most importantly, we learned about the Berkshire Immigrant Center.
I knew only vaguely of the Center from serving on a board with Brooke Mead, Program Coordinator. I went with Suni to help her learn about her citizenship application, exam, and interview. Not only did Brooke advise her about what to expect in the citizenship session and how to prepare for it, she told us about the many other services offered by the Center. The mission of the Berkshire Immigrant Center is to assist individuals and families in making the economic, psychological and cultural adjustment to a new land, not only by meeting basic needs, but also by helping them to become active participants in our community. Their services, listed below, range from provision of food and shelter funds and furniture and clothing donations to citizenship assistance and voter education.
Suni has now completed studies as an honor student at Berkshire Community College and has been accepted for transfer to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she plans to study accounting. With the help of the Immigrant Center, she has become a US citizen, registered to vote, and helped guide her family through the process of arranging for her sisters and nephew to come from Vietnam to join the rest of the family. She speaks highly of the Center, the staff’s immediate responses to questions, its affordable fees for services, and its generosity with free books, clothing and household items. After she has completed her studies, she plans to volunteer at the center as a Vietnamese/English interpreter.
I have no doubt that this capable, dedicated and generous young woman is well on her way to becoming a productive member of our society and will contribute in many ways to the betterment of our community. At a time when some Americans are opposed to foreigners, each of us can help new arrivals who will bring many benefits to our society. The Berkshire Immigrant Center welcomes volunteers and donors and provides the opportunity for individuals to experience great satisfaction from helping newcomers adjust to our country and to contribute to its welfare. Learn more at the Center’s website at http://berkshireic.com/.
Services offered by the Berkshire Immigrant Center
- Citizenship assistance including application support, disability and fee waivers, English as a Second Language/Civics classes, follow-up and advocacy with the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
- Settlement Services: orientation, information, referrals and general counseling for recently arrived immigrants
- Advocacy and public education including consultation, group information sessions and workshops, and outreach to communities and other not-for-profit organizations
- Referrals to and enrollment in English classes or with private tutors
- Work with state and federal legislators in support of immigrants’ initiatives
- Monthly walk-in clinics
- Referrals to immigration attorneys throughout the state
- Referrals to other community services to facilitate access of daycare, health care, continuing education, career counseling, housing, and other social service needs
- Voter education and promotion of civic participation
- Interpretation and translation services
- Information and distribution of forms for a variety of immigration issues including adjustment of status, green cards, visas, political asylum, work authorization and family sponsorship
- Distribution of Federal Emergency Food and Shelter funds and furniture and clothing donations
[This article was originally published in July 2016 in the South Williamstown Community Association newsletter.]