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166 new immigrants graduate from the Andrew Romay New Immigrant Center
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 was held in memory of ARNIC's founder, Dr. Andrew Romay, in which the Marietta and Andrew Romay Foundation created a matching challenge grant which raised more than $76,000 in funds to support ARNIC.
Christopher Broadwell, Executive Director and Dr. Paul Beresford-Hill CBE KStJ, Chair, of The English-Speaking Union of the United States 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 ARNIC and Fourth Universalist Society, who both 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 attended ARNIC classes when they immigrated to the US and 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.
Peter Frey, ESU Board Member and Trustee of the Marietta and Andrew Romay Foundation, led a panel discussion with ARNIC graduates Eliana Maria Félix Herrera and Viktoriia (Vika) Sanzharevska. Also on the panel was Margery Spagnoletti, a retired preschool teacher and 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.
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 be 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)
Together with Marcia, the Vilcek's 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."
"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."
--Niurka Melendez-Vasquez, ARNIC Graduate
"We're leaving [ARNIC] with heads stuffed with knowledge, hearts full of joy and bags packed with tricks to face whatever challenges in our 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."
--Dieudonné Ndje Bayi Seh, 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 to important to do here. It gave me friends here. It gave me an 'American mom.'"
--Eliana Maria Félix Herrera, ARNIC Graduate
"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."
--Dr. Jan Vilcek, Professor Emeritus and Research Professor, NYU Langone Medical Center
For more information, visit https://www.esuus.org
Steve Whalen, Director of Marketing Communications
English in Action